Monday, August 9, 2010

Tim's Blog: The Final Week/Epilogue (Carpe Diem)

And live for the moment now

-The Spill Canvas The Tide

There's no place like home
There's no place like home

There's no place like home

-The Receiving End Of Sirens Pale Blue Dot

If this is your first time viewing this blog, I strongly suggest going to my first blog and begin there. But to make a long story short, France was the best experience I've ever had/will ever have in my entire life.

I can barely put into words what this trip meant to me. Every single day was some new experience; something unique. I know the experiences I've had in this country will never be replicable and the time I have spent has been priceless. The only way anyone would ever be able to experience the freedom, the culture, the love and the fun that I've experienced in France would be to live and study there for at least a month.

There were many miniature excursions that our group went on that I didn't cover that happened at the University. On some of the days that we didn't have to go on a bus to some distant town or beach, we would return to the University later in the evening for some kind of program or activity. On one of these nights, we learned the traditional dances of southern France. And on another night one of our tour guides, Jeremy, played a plethora of common french songs. There have been barbecues and movies as well as games of soccer (football), volleyball, basketball and ping pong tournaments.

We spent the last week of school finishing up our lessons and bidding farewell to our friends and professors. The classes have been an amazing experience and all of the professors have been very helpful. They've taught us a lot in the month that we've been here, and these classes have made me fully convinced that the only way someone will learn a foreign language effectively is to study abroad in that country.

On the 25th of July, we visited Penzenas, Plage Colcanique (a volcanic beach), Canal Midi, and Beziers. Penzenas is a small village, nicknamed the Versailles of Languedoc, and is famous for its french play writer/actor, Moliere. Afterwards we visited a volcanic beach, which in my humble opinion was the highlight for this particular excursion. Though the water was freezing, the sun was hot and we were able to lie on the rocky beach comfortably. I was able to scale along the cliffs on the sides of the beach and look over the entire area from the top. We soon left the beach to visit the Canal du Midi, which is a channel connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. After the quick stop, we finished our excursion with a visit a Gothic Cathedral that was rebuilt in 1209 after the crusade against the Cathers. Even in daylight the interior of the cathedral seemed gloomy and foreboding, but the panoramic view from its top was breathtaking.

For 27th of July, I made a reservation at my favorite restaurant in all of France, "Les Jardins de la Babote" for our group. There were fresh salmon and deliciously tender steak, raw meat and wine, and a lot of laughs and pictures. Everyone had a good time at our last meal together. Something I'll miss most about France is the food. Every single meal I've had was better than the last, and I know I'll rarely come across something so fresh and exquisite in America as I have here. A funny thing I've noticed about France is that the harder it is to locate their restaurant, the better their food is.

On the final night of France, we all went to the Montpellier Wine Festival located at la Comedie. More specifically, it takes place in the Jardin du Champ de Mars. The location of this jardin is more or less in the same spot as the plaza of la Comedie. At this festival, over 40 different wine producers gather at la Comedie to give out tastings of their wine and vendors from all over bring out their wide assortment of local produce, candy, books, clothing, pottery, and everything in between. I would average about a thousand people being at this festival at any given time, and it grows exponentially as the night progresses. At the end of the long line of little boutiques is a large area where, if I would guesstimate, roughly 65% of the crowd is at all times. In this large area, live music (mostly, if not all, American music) is being played and people are gathered around the stage drinking, eating and socializing. Our group hung out there for the remainder of the night listening to the music, drinking and conversing. When the festival ended, we took the tram back to our dorms and slept until the next morning when we all had to leave France for good.

We left early the next morning; those who were staying behind in Europe woke up to say goodbye to us before the bus departed. The ride from Montpellier back to Marsielle was smooth. We were able to get to the airport, check our luggage and get on our flight with only a few minor hitches. When the plane arrived in Amsterdam, we departed and immidiately boarded our plane back to JFK. The flight back to the States was very pleasant on AirFrance. After arriving at JFK, we all met up after departing the plane, went through customs together and claimed our bags. We left the baggage claim and met our families, and it was here that we said our goodbyes to each other. As sad as the moment was, there was comfort in knowing that most of us would see each other in only a month or two, and that plans were already made for those who didn't go to Stony Brook to come and visit for a weekend before the end of the year.

It was sad leaving everyone at the airport. It was also very unreal to be back in the United States. I gave out my hugs, said my goodbyes, gathered my bags and headed back to reality.


It's been a little over a week now since I've been back from France, and I must admit that I miss it more and more with each passing day. The entire program was an absolute wake up call to what I've been missing in life, and I've never imagined I'd have so much fun on a trip. All of us in the group still keep in constant contact with each other, and plans have been made for the first few weeks of the semester to meet up with each other, maybe grab a drink or a bite to eat.

In my opinion, the best parts about the trip were the people I've met (ranging from Ireland to Turkey, Germany to Spain, as well as the people from my group) and the food I've eaten. I did have plenty of pictures of the food I ate on the trip, but silly, clumsy me dropped my phone somewhere in France, and all of the food pictures are lost. Regardless, the food of France was unparalleled; probably because it's so fresh (most of the ingredients they get are local, and they don't use nearly as many chemicals in their food (especially the meats) as America does). Another thing I'll miss is playing soccer (football) against all of my foreign friends. You won't realize how seriously Europe takes soccer (football), until you go over and see it for yourself, but I was there during FIFA 2010, and let me tell you, soccer (football) is more popular over there than the NFL Superbowl and the MLB World Series combined.

What I've learned from this trip is that memories are forever, and if you're in a spot where you can make a few, then give it everything you've got and have the time of your life. Learn as much as you can from where you are, take nothing for granted, and most importantly, Carpe Diem! Seize the day, because yesterday's history and tomorrow's a mystery. I've had an amazing time, and I do not regret a single experience from the four week trip.

In many ways, France was too amazing to believe to have actually happened.

It was the best. trip. ever.

Montpellier, France 2010!
*This photo is excluding Brittany =(

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tim's Blog: The Second and Third Week!

Pick me up, love, from the bottom
Up to the top, love, everyday
I will pay no mind to taunts or advances
I take my chances on everyday

-Dave Matthew's Band Everyday

From July 16th to the 18th, I left the group and spent the weekend in Paris where I met with my parents. This wasn't a trip that was funded by Stony Brook, but I believe that any future student who goes to Montpellier through Stony Brook University should take the time to visit this amazing city. Spending the weekend with my parents was the best part of this entire trip. It was like a piece of reality coming to France and waking me up from this dream.

I took a TGV train (for those who don't know, TGV holds the record for the fastest train, traveling up to 200 mph) from Saint-Roch (which is one of the closer stops on the tram, just one right after la Comedie ) straight to Paris. After meeting my parents at the train station, we traveled back to our hotel. The Eiffel Tower is roughly about a 30 minute walk from the hotel. That night, my parents and I went to a restaurant where I finally got the chance to order Escargot. I must say, it was very small and garlicky; if you can tolerate clam, then you'd have no problem with this. It's too bad they didn't have frog's legs; that's what I really want to try.

On Saturday the 17th we spent time walking up and down the Seine River visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. We also had time to take a river boat tour, which I highly recommend to everyone that visits Paris. It showed and explained nearly every single famous site in Paris along the Seine River, so if you're only in the city for a few days, at least you'd be able to see everything in the span of an hour.

On Sunday, the last day in Paris with the 'rents, we visited Notre Dame Cathedral right as 12 o'clock mass began. We were able to walk around the outskirts of the chamber while mass presumed at its center. After mass let out, we walked along the river Seine back to the Eiffel Tower, where we grabbed a taxi and returned to the hotel, and inevitably, the train station. The train ride back to Saint-Roch was quick and smooth. I was looking forward to getting back to the group to see how their weekend went and to live out the last two weeks of France.

On Thursday, July 22nd, our group traveled to Sete and walked the peninsula, "Venis du Languedoc", known for its many channels. We first arrived to Mt St Clair where he had a panoramic view of the city and its coastline. We traveled to the port and walked around the town visiting its many shops and trying some of their restaurants. We left the city and traveled to a nearby beach where we spend an hour soaking in the sun and swimming in the warm water of the Mediterranean Sea.

Our group had a free day that Saturday, so a few friends and I went to the Montpellier zoo and saw some animals. First of all, the zoo is GIGANTIC with an excellent array of animals! Some animals included where cheetahs, rhinosaurus, kangaroos, lions, etc. After walking around for a few hours, we ate at the zoo's restaurant. My meal consisted of a raw (but otherwise delicious) piece of steak along with some delicious steak fries (oh how I'd thought I'd never miss steak fries. Silly me.) Next to our table was a window that overlooked into an exhibit filled with monkeys and birds. As we were eating, a few monkeys came up to the glass and watched us! One even brought some food and ate with us! Later that night, I led us to my favorite restaurant in all of France, "Les Jardins de la Babote" where we had an excellent three course meal. Upon asking the waiter what he'd recommend from the menu, he suggested that their lamb was "quite exceptional." And it was, along with their scalloped potatoes and mixed salad. For desert I tried their white chocolate milk shake, which ended up being a favorite of the group.

So I've survived the second and third week! With one week left, we all plan to do everything we can so that we leave France with no regrets!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tim's Blog: The First Week

After everything that's happened here,

I need to get out, find a change of atmosphere

I need to get out, see the world from the other side

And live life (live life)
That's right (that's right)

-Dela Change of Atmosphere

Where do I begin? Should I describe the exhilarating atmosphere of this city? Or how about the priceless, breathlessly beautiful scenery that I've encountered only within the first week? Or maybe I should describe how this group of people I've only just met seems to be like long lost friends straight from the beginning of this trip?

I guess I'll begin with the plane ride to Montpellier a.k.a Heaven.

The plane departed from JFK at approximately 6:50 P.M, and was to be a 6 hour flight to Amsterdam, where we would have an 8 hour layover. But we rode in on "excellent tailwinds" and arrived an hour earlier, giving us plenty of time to leave the airport and see Central Amsterdam. Our group met appropriately right after we got off of the plane, and proceeded with finding lockers to store our carry-ons and purchasing train tickets to Central Amsterdam.

The best way to describe our group is that every one of us has an outgoing personality, so it's been one of those experiences where we all "clicked" instantly. The train to Amsterdam was easy enough, and arriving to the city, the first thing I noticed was that people there are soccer (excuse me, 'football') crazy. There were orange streams and giant soccer balls decorating the narrow streets and shops for their team in the FIFA World Cup, and roughly every 4-5 shops was a merchandise shop filled with orange jerseys. The style and architecture of the buildings were absolutely beautiful, and the streets were narrow and cozy. Though none of us went on a shopping spree here, we were able to kill a few hours walking through the plazas while getting to know each other.

We headed back to the airport and took the plane to Marseille where we met Dr. Arens, who escorted us via coach bus to the University of Montpellier. We got a two hour taste of southern France as we drove past its rolling hills, its many farms and vegetation, and its towns. There is nowhere in America that is like France. We arrived to the dorms in a timely fashion and checked into our rooms. The dorm rooms were made for a single person, complete with its own shower, toilet and refrigerator (though some of the lucky students were able to obtain a stove and a sink as well). We all settled in and did the only American thing left to do; we ordered Dominos. Well fed, we succumbed to jet lag and the anticipation of a very long Monday.

The next day, we traveled to our classrooms via tram, which overall took about 10 minutes. We took our oral and written comprehension tests and were placed in the appropriate classes. I, who doesn't speak a word of French, was placed in the beginner class with some our group and an amazing professor, Fabian. For the entire week, every single one of our classes have been funny, intriguing, but also difficult (Fabian will only speak to us in French for the remainder of the trip). At the university, we were able to meet another group of students from Spain who are also studying the French language. They share the excursions and classes with us, and both groups have become increasingly close over the past week.

Our first excursion was a tour of the city of Montpellier and let me tell you, this city has EVERYTHING! From amazing restaurants to entertainment in the main plaza (called Place de la Comedie) to its beautiful architecture and endless amounts of shops; this city has it all! One of its best features (strictly in my opinion) is the amount of outside eateries and bars, where you can sit yourself, have a drink and watch people pass by. Our group has made it a habit to travel to la Comedie on an almost daily basis.

The following day, we visited the village of St. Guilhem Le Desert and the Gellone River. The Languedoc styled village is set up in a Romanesque cloister. Walking through the streets, you would swear that it was left untouched by time. After the visit to the village, we jumped into the Gellone River and swam before finishing up the excursion with wine tasting.

On Thursday evening, our group attended an evening dance at the University, where we learned and practiced the traditional dances of southern France.

On Sunday, we traveled an hour and a half to Carcassonne; a famous ancient fortified town with ramparts. We took a tour of the church and the ramparts, and afterward spent time shopping through the town.

The first week has been life changing. I've made so many friends from all over the world, had so many amazing experiences, and just overall I've been having the time of my life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Casey's Blog: La Première Semaine

Saint Guilhem le Desert et Rivière
Right foot first. My toes glowed luminescent as they slid along the mossy rocks beneath the clear surface. The water’s chill shocked my body, initiating an irrepressible storm of excitement behind my wide eyes. I pushed off from the dusty rock and leapt forward. The icy turquoise river swallowed me, refreshing my bones after a tired afternoon of climbing sloping cobbled streets under the mighty july sun.

Our second excursion was everything I’d hoped for and much more. Our journey over took us through the awesomely vast countryside, with manicured farms blanketing the valleys between majestic blue mountain ranges. My eyes grew wide and fervently scanned the scenery before me so as to paint a permanent mental landscape. I felt the thirst in my eyes and the need to appreciate the beauty laid before me. When the bus gained ground on the elevated highways, one could look down onto the tiled roofs of small houses-- aged villages quietly existing under the guard of the mountains.

At length we crossed the narrow Pont du Diable (Devil's Bridge) built
high above the rocky cleavage of the Hérault River. Built in the early 11th century, it's the oldest Roman bridge in France. From this point one could look down into the narrow rocky gorge where the fresh water runs its 92-mile course.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert had a very romantic feel to it. Altogether, with its narrow cobbled roads and close stone buildings, it seemed comfortably separate from the rest of the world,
as if a self-sufficient people had dwelled on this mountainside without incident for a great many years. If only my words could bring you to understand the sensation in my heart as I climbed higher into the depth of this city. Think children with their dogs, iron-framed windows and arched wooden doors nestled deep in light stone walls. Vibrant pink products of flower boxes bringing the eyes up the balconies where patterned skirts hang to dry, flapping carelessly in
the warm breeze.
Small shops where local artisans work their craft as shoppers admire their creations-- a man standing barefoot in his gallery, working the wet pigments of an oil painting as recently finished landscapes hang to dry.

As a group, we were led to a small specialty tapenade shop where we were able to taste three varieties of the spread-- black olive, green olive, and tomato. How delicious! I bought a jar of the tomato for myself afterwards. I know, you care.

And of course the educational part.. we visited the church established by Saint Guilhem-- L’église abbatiale de Saint-Guilhem-- in the town center.
After all this pack traveling, we were allowed a few hours of free time, during which we could go swimming in the river if we wanted to. After some more exploring and shop-searching, my friends and I made our way down the quaint stone steps that led away from the main road of the village and down into the wooded cliff overlooking the gorge. With the rest of the explorers (and of course, our fun tour guide Nicolas) we refreshed our tired bodies in the chill clear water of the Hérault.

And, bien sûr, there was wine tasting.


Les Danses Occitanes
1-2-3-4: Ladies sashay forward into the circle. 1-2-3-4: Ladies walk backwards into place. 1-2-3-4: Men strut out into the circle. 1-2-3-4: Men come back and face their partners. Right hand on each other’s right shoulder. Left hands linked underneath. Sixteen spins and then the men guide their ladies for eight steps around the circle. Repeat.

Whoever knew that dancing medieval dances to the rhythm of a one-man-band would be such a fun time?
After a normal Wednesday morning of classes and afternoon of exploration, many of us returned to the university’s hall at 8:30 to learn the traditional dances of the south of France.
To be honest, I was kind of on the fence about this one... after already having so much fun and a few intense nights in France, did I really want to go learn a few corny dances. But then I decided not to be a recluse and to take advantage of this window into French culture.Oh my goodness, so much fun. So our special guest emcee was our very own adorable tour guide Jérémie, accompanied by Jérémie on the harmonica, featuring the star accordionist Jérémie, and on the kick drum... Jérémie. Rather entertaining.

We learned line dances, couples’ dances, and circle dances. And Anna totally did the worm at one point! That was not in the program. We first had our intelligence slightly insulted by being taught a simple children’s dance which involved all of two moves. Some of us immediately had our pride weakened by being unable to learn said dance. But then things really got spicy, and complicated, but in a fun way. You know, in a “this is difficult and I’m a beat off but I can’t stop smiling and laughing at myself” way. And our four-in-one musical master must have loved watching us try to keep up as he sped up and slowed to a crawl at his leisure. I especially liked the last dance, where everyone formed a circle and started with his hands on the shoulders of the person in front of him. Each of Jérémie’s refrains named a new body part... hands on their ears, hands on their eyes, their hips... their thighs... their ankles... Very challenging. But very, very fun.


I stood happily gazing from the rampart up high,
From which a husband in chain mail once feared for his life,
The stone was still firm and the fountains still spouted,
The dogs still ran free and the vendors still shouted,
It’s too much to believe that this rock was once theirs,
That they sat on these ledges and mounted these stairs,
Once a set of twin walls halted traffic both ways,
Now a thousand strange people come through every day

Sunday we travelled 200 km west of Montpellier to the fortified city of Carcassonne. We dismounted the bus in the village center, amongst shops and roads at the bottom of a paved hill. Just visible at the top was a fairy-tale castle, seemingly photoshopped onto the crest of a small mountain. As we ascended and neared its fortified walls, the image became more real. Before us loomed the largest fortified city in Europe, existing today in very nearly the same condition as a millennium ago, after it was constructed to defend its people from foreign invaders.
The city’s history is quite interesting. As with several other excursions, we were shown a short informational film on the journey over, and there was a short historical film inside the city. Walking through the city in this summer of the twenty-first century, trying to comprehend the efforts and motives behind its creation, was a powerfully moving experience.
We were given time to explore the city and its shops on our own, at which point I nearly
drowned in my own contemplations. Now, Carcassonne receives three and half million visitors every year. The open squares have turned into dining plazas where visitors can eat outdoors in
the shade of surrounding ramparts. Gift shops and vendors of regional crafts line the narrow roadways. At one point I sat at the foot of a statue carved of stone and imaged the men and women who’d sat there before me. Other tourists, recently. Before that, those working to restore the city. But first? Men of the Middle Ages resting during a day of work.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Casey's Post-arrival Blog

Pour commencer...

To be completely honest, I’ve been having such a good time over here that I forgot I have to share my fond memories with the people back home! The last thing I want to do is sit inside online when the beauty of France is just outside my window (this is a good thing!)
I’ll start where I started... at JFK airport in New York, where I met this amazing group of people with whom I’d spend the next four weeks conquering le Sud de France. Together we flew into Amsterdam, where we spent a very interesting eight-hour layover.

Here's some Amsterdam in a nutshell.

(That’s a story for another time. Let’s just say I plan on returning.)

Eventually we weary
travelers reached Marseilles, where a bus met us for the last leg of our trek to Montpellier.

With our overpacked suitcases and newly obtained room keys, the new study abroad friends parted for the night.

Soooo much more to come...
Á bientôt,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tim's Pre-France Blog!

"And tonight will go on forever while we
Walk around this town like we own the streets
And stay awake through summer like we own the heat
Singing 'Everybody wake up! (Wake up!) It's time to get down!'"

-Brand New Soco Amaretto Lime


The countdown has officially begun! As of this post, in less than two weeks, I will board the plane that will officially mark the beginning of my excursion to France: the world-renown centerpiece of food, architecture, and beautiful scenery (but apparently not soccer). What perfect reasons to make every single second of every minute count while I'm overseas. Who knows if I'll ever have the chance to do this again?

The lowdown for this upcoming attraction is about a group of students traveling to a distant country for a month of learning not only a foreign language and their history but about what we ourselves are capable of when completely submersed in a foreign culture. We'll be completely and utterly enveloped in a language that some of us will have to work extra hard to understand quickly. It's going to be challenging, but I know we're all up for it. Speaking of challenges, I would like to send a special shout-out and thank Mr. Euro for its continued domination over the American Dollar. It's going to be a challenge just not to buy every other item I see on the streets within the first week!

As you all will be reading my words, I believe it's best to explain a bit about myself. I'm a Stony Brook junior/senior majoring in Psychology and Sociology. My overall goal in life is to research/teach neuroscience at a research university like Stony Brook. I'm traveling to France to begin my training in the French language and culture so that I'll accomplish some life goals of mine: to be multi-lingual and also to be as well rounded in life as possible. In my spare time I write and record music in my studio, play hockey and frisbee with friends, and enjoy taking photographs and throwing myself into situations that are way over my head.

So here's what I expect in France: a lot of hard work, a lot of laughs, and a lot of food. One of the things I'm most looking forward to will be the copious amount of cuisines I will devour on a daily basis. Not to mention, I would love to sample some of their exquisite wines and spend a few days visiting their beaches! July is going to be their hottest/driest month of their season, so I'll assume it'll also be the busiest month for their Mediterranean shore! I can't think of a better place to surround myself in their culture and observe some of their... fashion.

I recently went to a local Applebee's for some scrumptious half-priced appetizers and a few drinks with friends that have traveled through Europe and France. They recommended a few places to visit and some tips on surviving (pretty much, learn to speak French as quickly as possible if I want my life to be easy). One fact they stressed through the entire night (and something that even more people have placed emphasis on to make sure I realized where I'm going) was that the beauty of southern France is absolutely unparalleled!

A photographer's paradise!!!

I cannot stress enough how excited I am about going overseas! I'll do my best to entertain you all with my words of wisdom, opinions, pictures and stories! So stay tuned...


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Casey's Pre-Departure Blog

Bonjour, mes amis!!
In four and a half weeks’ time, I will be en route to beautiful Montpellier in the south of France. Not a big deal or anything. Everyone asks, “So what are your plans for the summer?” It’s one of those questions you face all the time as a college student, but only like 32% of the askers actually care about the answer. So I casually lean back in my chair and mention that I’m going to France. They start caring. At that point in the conversation I usually answer an important text or check my important nail beds... let the message sink in.
But really... I’ve never been out of the country before, and how great it is that my first international experience will be in France! I’ve studied French language since grade school, but I must say it doesn’t come in all too handy around here. Whenever I venture to drop a French phrase around here, I get an impatient “Huh?” and a “please-stop-trying-to-show-off” eyeroll. Fine. You have left me no choice but to go where my skills will be appreciated. Au revoir, suckers!
But really... To be perfectly honest, one needn’t be fluent to get by in France. Most French citizens speak English. I’ve resolved to study anyway before leaving-- it’ll be interesting to see how far my French will get me.
Sooo let’s talk about how extremely pumped I am about going! I live for new experiences, and what’s more unfamiliar to me than a month in a foreign country, taking classes in a foreign university, walking the streets of a foreign capital city? Ohh and the food! Expect a thorough analysis of French vegetarian cuisine. It might be slim pickings, since French cuisine is typically rather meaty and fishy. While I normally follow a vegan diet, research tells me I’ll probably have to accept cheese if I want to get by over there. But cheese is a big deal in France, so I’ll probably dive head-in to that and return to the states a cheese connoisseur. And oh, what to pack... I’ve been told by at least six people that the south of France is hot hot hot in July. That’s a start.
We leave New York on July 3rd and fly back in on the 31st, so we’ll have an entire month to explore and be French. I’ll miss American Independence Day on the fourth but I’ll be off celebrating French Independence Day (La Fête Nationale) on the fourteenth. Exciting much?
I’ll be taking a course in French language and one in French culture (for a total of 6 credits) at the University of Montpellier. Apart from Intensive Intermediate French last summer, my college career has been (and will likely continue to be) French-free, as I’m quite-busy-enough-thank-you with my premed curriculum. I love the French language and culture, but there’s little wiggle room in my fall and spring schedules as long as I’m fulfilling the requirements of a Biology major and premed student (when my brain shifts to full out science gear). I think if I’m going to go on with my French, I’m gonna do it the right way-- overseas, bien sûr!
Till next entry..

À tout à l’heure,