Paris, Je t’aime (Part 4: Viva la Vida- Paris and all her Friends)


The next morning, day 3, we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit.  We didn’t really get our day started until about 10:00.  Everybody was happily rested, and that’s always a good way to start the day.  At this point, all of the guys were simply delighted at the idea of eating croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes  every morning for breakfast.  By the end of the trip, and I will never understand how this could be, they were really tired of the “continental” breakfast.

We had a big day in store.  We had many things to see in Paris before moving on to the South of France.  On this day, we went out to Versailles.  Many times, I try to get away with not going out there because it’s just way too crowded., but this time the guys really wanted to go.  Our coach driver was nice enough to bring us out there, even though it wasn’t an official part of our tour.  Rather than being dropped off right at the entrance of the Palais de Versailles http://www.chateauversailles.fr/homepage like most of the other tourists, we came upon it from the edge of the gardens.  This allowed us to approach the palace by meandering through the oak lined paths.  We saw Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon http://en.chateauversailles.fr/marie-antoinettes-estate and Le Petit Hameau http://www.pbs.org/marieantoinette/life/hameau.html before seeing the Palais.

Students can enter the palace for free as long as they’re under age 18, and so most everybody did go in.  After visiting, they couldn’t stop talking about the sheer opulence of the place.  I guess the crowds don’t bother them as much as they bother me.  It also helps that they’d just studied about the French Revolution http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/ in history class.

After our trip to the palace, we went into town to the Place du Marché http://millie.furman.edu/versailles/towninfo.htm where there are many small, not terribly expensive restaurants.  Once again, we split up for lunch.  I will recommend going to this part of town for dining.  It’s not really the place where you’ll see hundreds of tourists.  This isn’t because it’s located very far from the palace, but it’s rather  because you have to walk past a lot of other restaurants before arriving there.  Most tourists, I imagine, are tempted by the first places they see.  Some of my students did disappoint me by eating at a Tex-Mex restaurant, but I didn’t tease them for too long.  Apparently they paid a lot of money for a very average, even bad lunch.  Lesson learned!

When we got back to Paris, it was already late afternoon.  It seemed like everyone wanted to get back to the Quartier Latin, imagine that.  We went there for a few hours of free time before heading up to Pigalle  for dinner.  Why would I bring 20 American teenage boys to Pigalle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartier_Pigalle for dinner?  For one thing, it’s cheaper than other areas.  For another thing, they get to see a seedier part of Paris, and between you and me, they like that!  It was all innocent enough, and the food was good.

Next in the “Paris, Je t’aime” series (Part 5), join us on a trip to the highest point in Paris:  Montmartre.

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 3: Chartres, French High School)


We woke up early on day 2 in Paris, and made our way to the Gare Montparnasse http://parisbytrain.com/gare-montparnasse-photo-tour/.  We boarded a train to Chartres, and less than an hour later we were greeted by my French teacher friends, Christine and Odile.  They gave us a little tour of the town, including a history lesson about and a visit of the Cathédrale de Chartres.  Around 10:00 we went to the school where my American students were each partnered up with a French student.  The exchange was simple enough, since many of the Chartres kids had been to our school the previous October.

Students and teachers were so kind to all of us.  During the day, we were invited to their cafeteria where we all were treated to a pretty tasty three-course meal.  We teachers even had bottles of wine on the table to enjoy.  During the day, some of the kids had free time (no scheduled classes).  While they weren’t in class, their English/American Club had a meeting.  What a blast!  They put on American music and for about an hour there were 50 or so American and French kids all line dancing together.  The French kids were much better at it than my students!  That evening, we were invited to stay for a barbeque at the school.  It was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.  We took the train back to Paris, and were back at the hotel by midnight.

Stay tuned to “Paris, Je t’aime (Part 4)” for a trip to Versailles and Pigalle!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais)


After lunch, we started a walking tour of Paris.  Since we were already in the 2ème, our guide offered to have us stop by his house right around the corner.  He has the obvious good fortune of owning his own house, right in the very center of Paris.  From the street, you open the oversized, watch-your-step kind of door and move into the entrée of what is actually an apartment building.  Just beyond the entrance and access to the apartments, you happen upon his house.  It’s a pretty quirky place, looks like it could be part of the décor of a Tim Burton movie.  There are books absolutely everywhere, and the walls are covered with artsy posters.  There’s a makeshift mezzanine, that he built himself, where books are stored on shelves.  This is in the living room, which is pretty much the everything room.  A ladder is at one’s disposition to gain access to the overhead books.  In the living room, there’s also a small table and a high-chair, various toys lying around.  It’s a well-used space.  He was hospitable enough to allow anyone in our group use the toilettes.    The stairway that leads to the bedrooms is only wide enough for one not-so-hefty person at a time.  The rooms upstairs echo the wonderfully eccentric tone of the living room, and everything is lovely.

The rest of the first day was spent walking around the Marais district http://goparis.about.com/od/sightsattractions/ss/MaraisTour.htm, one of Paris’ oldest and most gorgeous neighborhoods.  It’s an historically Jewish area, and we stopped in front of a school where we read this plaque, erected in the memory of  Jewish students who were deported between the years of 1942-1944.  They were exterminated in concentration camps.  I had my students do the translation on their own, and then our guide led us through a very comprehensive lesson on how this could have happened, and what led up to the war.  It still gives me chills to remember the silence of my students while standing in front of this school, on the very sidewalk where so many children, now lost, once ran into school in happier days, hoping not to be late.

By the time we had walked around the Marais, Île de la Cité http://www.aparisguide.com/ile-de-la-cite/index.html, and parts of the Quartier Latin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_Quarter,_Paris, it was time for dinner.  It was not a very memorable occasion, as I recall.  We went into a supermarket and bought picnic-style goods that could be thrown together quickly and eaten in hotel rooms.  We were all thoroughly exhausted, but we made it through the first day!  Tomorrow, everyone would be ready for our day trip to Chartres http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/81, where we would spend the day at French high school, L’Institution Notre Dame http://ind-chartres.fr/.

Have a look at “Paris, Je t’aime (Part 3)” to see how our day at French high school went!

Paris, Je t’aime (Part 1: Métro, Rue Montorgueil)


Upon our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we didn’t waste any time at all.  We went directly into the city, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, and went into town on the Métro. http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/  I had already given my students a lesson on how the Paris Métro works, so even if they were jet-lagged, they managed to do ok as long as we stayed in a group.

We went directly to the 2ème arrondissement where we met up with a good friend of mine who would be our tour guide for the next 16 days. Together, we led the group over to the Rue Montorgueil http://www.thekitchn.com/a-foodlovers-walk-down-the-rue-128435.  I love for this street to be one of our first stops in Paris.  It’s the kind of Parisian street that tourists can visualize even before arriving. It’s a street lined with fromageries, poissonneries, fleuristes, restaurants, cafés, boulangeries, pâtisseries.  It’s a place where Parisians do their daily shopping, all the while taking the time to socialize.  As soon as we got there, I told my wide-eyed students (all boys) that the time had come to put these years of studying French to good use:  C’était l’heure du déjeuner!  (lunch time!!).  I set them out on their own, they were to stay in groups of 4-5.  I remember some of them looking at me as if to say, “Quoi???”  But I believe that the best way to experience something new is sometimes just to jump right in.

We adults chose to have a seat on the terrace of a little restaurant (I can’t remember the name of it!) to enjoy a glass of wine and our first French meal of the summer.  Honestly, we were so tired, I cannot remember what I ate.  I know it was fish, and I know it was good.  What I remember most about this particular trip to the Rue Montorgueil  is meeting up with the guys after lunch.  While walking down the street, we ran into about seven of them who were also seated on the terrace of a cute restaurant.  They were all enjoying lunch, and they’d ordered quite a variety of dishes!  I noticed that one of them was eating steak tartare, and I congratulated him on that.  Then he told me that he should have continued French after sophomore year.  He just saw the word steak and figured he’d be safe.  He was in for a surprise!  But get this… When he received his tartare http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steak_tartare, a dish made from raw ground beef, garnished with onions, capers, seasonings, and a raw egg yolk, three or four waiters came to judge his reaction.  The boys told me that even the chef came outside.  My student dove right in, and said in a rather weak voice and an even weaker smile, “C’est très bon!”, and there was applause all around.  I’m not sure what the staff expected, but I know I was proud!  While I was there talking to them and hearing the story second-hand, some of the waiters came back outside to tell me, obviously le professeur how perfectly delightful this young group of Americans had been.  I’ve never been more proud, good job guys!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’m sure you’ll like this post about when we went to our tour guide’s home in The Marais: Paris, Je t’aime (Part 2: A French Home, le Marais).  Join us in visiting a real Parisian home, and a trip around Le Marais.

Traveling to Europe with Students


My experience leading student tours to Europe

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One month prior to departure with my students (about twenty of them this year), I’m beginning to think about everything that goes into putting together a student trip to Europe.  The 2012 trip will be the fourteenth tour that I’ve organized, and the twelfth I’ve led.  Thinking of the many years spent doing this, I decided to do a little calculating just to see how many teenagers I’ve accompanied on trips that last anywhere from 16-29 days:  about 300.

Where I’ve traveled with students

I’ve accompanied students to many countries in Western Europe:  France, England, Spain, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy.  After this summer I’ll be able to add Czech Republic.  These trips are sometimes a bit of a whirlwind, but we have such a good time.  I really love my students, and they (usually) don’t give me any trouble.  They’re all 17-18 years old at the time of the trip, so I’m free to give them a little liberty.  They’re also all  boys, which in many ways is easier than a bunch of teenage girls!

How do I organize the tour? 

I always get started organizing the trip about a year and a half in advance.  It may seem extreme, but a lot goes into planning such an excursion, and it does take time.  It’s also nice to give the students enough time to take on a summer job, or to ask for monetary gifts from family members for birthdays and Christmas.  I believe that opening the tour for enrollment so far in advance allows for more students to sign up in the long run.

The first thing I do is brainstorm about the places I’d like to visit.  It’s simple enough to eliminate cities or regions once you pull out a map and have a look at the logistics of it all.  Once I come up with a rough plan of where I want to go and what I want to do there, it’s time to have a look at the price.  At that point in the game, it’s more than likely time to rework a few things to bring down the cost.  Once I reach a price that seems reasonable (though it’s always expensive), I publish the tour and start getting students to sign up.  The more the merrier, and the more students we have, the less expensive it is too.

Though I am a French teacher, and most of the kids who come with me are my own students, usually about a third of them are not.  These other students may be students of Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Latin or Greek.  I like to keep my tour open to any student who wants to come (after his junior year).  However, I have to be careful about accepting student I don’t know, and who don’t know me.  To help me make an informed decision about allowing to the student to participate, I ask him to provide two faculty recommendations.  That usually helps a lot.

Why do I travel to Europe with students?

Parents, other teachers, friends, and even students ask me why I do this.  Why would I take out 2-4 weeks of my precious summer vacation to bring a bunch of kids over to Europe?  It’s not because I want a free vacation, because it’s much more intense than the school year (think 24/7, 7 days a week).

It’s because there’s nothing like experiencing Europe for the very first time.  Unfortunately, you never get to go again for the first time… Unless you relive the experience through the eyes of your students.

 

I do send the students back to the US with the other chaperone (usually another teacher).  Doing so permits me to spend my remaining two months of vacation in France with my family, who meet up with me in Paris once my students have left.

Any questions or comments? 

Please do ask any questions or write any comments that come to mind.  Especially when I first started organizing these trips, I really found it helpful to toss around ideas with others who had had the experience.

You do tend to come across a lot of negative comments about traveling with students when searching on the Internet.   A lot of it probably does have to do with what kind of students you’re going to be dealing with, but I’d say that the majority of the time it has to do with one’s own attitude and organizational skills.

Bon Voyage

Round-trip or one-way flight to Paris?


Pour mes amis francophones:

En ce moment j’essaie de prendre une décision importante.  Le moment du départ arrivant, je ne sais pas si on doit acheter des billets aller-simple ou des billets aller-retour (deux fois le prix).  Si on achète l’ aller-simple (très tentant), on risque de ne pas vendre la maison avant de partir et on sera bien embêtés du coup!!  Et bien sûr, dès que j’achète l’aller-retour, la maison se vendra sans doute et on aura perdu des milliers de dollars pour rien.  Mais il faut positiver, n’est-ce pas??  Je crois qu’on attendra encore quelques semaines avant de les acheter.  Que ce serait chouette d’être plein de fric et de ne pas avoir à réfléchir comme ça!  Si jamais vous avez des idées de génie, dites-le-moi!

For my English-speaking friends:

Trying to make a very important decision.  Our departure date is quickly approaching, and I don’t know if we should buy one-way tickets or round-trips (twice the price).  If we buy the one-ways  (very tempting), we risk not selling the house before leaving et as a result will be really bothered!!  Of course, as soon as I buy the round-trips, the house will sell and we will have lost thousands of dollars for nothing.  But we have to stay positive, right?  I think we’ll wait a few more weeks before buying them.  How great it would be to have lots of money and not have to think about things like this!  If ever you have a brilliant plan, let me know!

French “livret de famille” and Double Nationality


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After what seems like months of sending papers and documents back and forth to the French Consulate in Chicago, we finally received our new “livret de famille” via Express Mail yesterday!!  We also received French birth certificates for our two little ones, and now it’s time for a celebration because they are now officially both FRENCH and AMERICAN!!  This is progress.  Time to order the French passports.

Now I just have to work on French nationality for myself…. I really should get started.  All of this should really be helpful once we get to France.

French Consulate in Chicago

On another note, we had a showing of our house on Saturday, and another one tonight (everyone cross your fingers for us that these will be the people who fall in love with our house and put down a contract right away).

Top Ten Reasons to Live in France


My TOP TEN reasons for wanting to relocate to France:

(maybe I forgot something, or maybe you know better!  in any case, let me know what you think!)

 

Reason # 1

Quality of life


Reason # 2

Work to live, not live to work.  Taking time to enjoy life, spending time with family, longer lunches and dinners.  Slower pace of living.  Sundays are what they used to be in the United States forty years ago.

Reason # 3

Healthier lifestyle, pedestrian friendly cities, beaches, mountains, walks in vineyards.

Reason # 4

High-quality health care system, affordable to all, low cost prescription drugs.

Reason # 5

French gastronomy, locally grown fresh produce markets, bread, cheese, olive oil, Mediterranean diet.

Reason # 6

Easy travel to diverse locations (other European countries); children grow up (with the possibility of)  being exposed to more foreign cultures.  And no matter where you live in France, Paris is just a quick train ride away.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway

Reason # 7 

Some of the best, and most affordable wine regions in the world.  Summer wine festivals in the Languedoc are fabulous.

Reason # 8 

Mediterranean climate:  The weather may not be so fantastic in every part of France year round, but in the Languedoc, it really is quite pleasant most of the time.

Reason # 9

Manners are still important in France, and the vast majority of children are raised to show respect.  This is very important to me.

This is a picture of my son, my niece, and some friends.

Reason # 10

Comparatively low violent crime rate.  We are not planning to live in a big city, but even in Paris I feel safe walking alone at night.

What we’re going to put in our 20-foot container


Our house still hasn’t sold.  42 days or so on the market and two weeks since we’ve had a showing, but I’m still curiously optimistic.  I don’t know how I’ll deal psychologically if this doesn’t work out.  Let’s just not think about that 🙂

Here’s what our container will look like.

 

Doesn’t look that big, but we’ve been assured that everything we have left in our house should fit in there:

Dining room

Kitchen

Living Room

Three bedrooms

Clothes/Shoes for 2 adults & 2 children

Toys, bikes, etc.

We did get rid of a LOT at our moving sale back in February so when moving time does come, NO CLUTTER.

While getting rid of things, we didn’t keep anything electronic that we thought we could do without.  That includes mostly all kitchen appliances, one television, some lamps.  Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have gotten rid of so many things.  However, at the time we didn’t know we’d have enough space in the container.  Oh well, no regrets!

Originally, we’d planned to sell or give away the electrical appliances we still have just before moving.  That would include a television, PS3, Wii, DVD player, hair dryer, flat-iron, iron for clothes, a couple of lamps, coffee maker, espresso machine, rice cooker, and a few other little things that we consider important.  Now that I think about it and I’ve done a bit of research (and I know we have enough space in the container), I do believe I’ll just go and buy enough $10 electrical adapter/converter devices and hold onto our appliances.  That will save us a lot of running around buying things when we get to our apartment in Béziers, and it will be cheaper too.

A word about keeping the television.  The only reason we will do this is to play video games and watch DVDs on it.  It happens to be a nicer, newer T.V., so maybe we’d like to have the little luxury of having it, even if we won’t watch real television programs or French DVDs.  We will need a larger size converter for this.  Suggestions?

We’re not going to bring the car, though.  I love my VW Beetle, but it’s just not worth what it would cost to ship it over.  Plus, I’m pretty sure we’d have to have some changes made to the car once in France just to make it street legal.

What do you think?  Any comments?  Many of you probably have a lot more experience shipping personal goods overseas, so I’d be thrilled to receive any advice you may have.

Steps we’ve been taking to get ready to move to France ASAP


Step 1

The first thing we had to do back in the fall of ’11 was to really decide once and for all that this is what we want to do, and that this is the best decision for our family.  My husband and I have just hit the big 4-0, and we have two small children, as well as one who is now 21.  We lived in Béziers, France back in 98-99, right after getting married.  When we came back to St. Louis, it was mainly to allow me to finish my Master’s in French.  At the time, it seemed like it would be so easy to pick up and go back whenever we felt like it.  13 years later…….  In a perfect world, we will move back to the south of France this summer (2012).

Step 2

Time to tell the family about our big move.  My husband is French, and his whole family lives in France.  Telling them was a piece of cake, and they were thrilled!  My whole family is in Louisiana.  To them, St. Louis is already too far away.  This proved to be a bit more difficult, but six months later, Mom & Dad gave us their support (whew!).

Step 3

Tell the family, but not the kids just yet.  It was really hard keeping such a big secret, but for job security it was necessary.  We finally decided to tell the kids (they were ecstatic), and of course the news spread like wildfire.  Lots and lots of questions were aimed in our direction, and we still don’t have all of the answers.

Step 4

Right after Christmas, we decided it was time to get busy!  Spring was on the way, and we had a house to get ready to put on the market.  It took one solid month to go through every single item in the house while getting ready for the moving sale of the century (not really).  We had our sale in mid-February, and we sold everything we do not plan to bring to France, with just a few exceptions.  We’ll still need a 20′ container, though.

Step 5

With the moving sale accomplished, it was time to get the house ready to put on the market.  With the help of an awesome real estate agent, we found out exactly what we needed to do to make this house sell.  Without going into all of the details, I can tell you that it was the hardest job we have ever embarked upon.  Ever.  Working day and night, we got the house market-ready in 6-7 weeks.

Step 6

Two open houses, about 10 showings, one contract that fell through, two home inspections…. lots of stress.  Still playing the waiting game.  Had to lower the price on our house today in hopes of getting some more showings.

Step 7

Lots of administrative things to do.  Working on finalizing French nationality for the children (and for me), enrolling the kids in school both in France and in St. Louis (just in case), reserving a 20′ container for the move, making lists of what to do when the time comes to move.  It’s pretty difficult, because most of what we need to do cannot actually be done until our house sells and we’re certain of the move.

Step 8

This is not really “step 8”, it’s been a constant since we decided to move:  Looking for work in France.  We’re fortunate in that my husband is French, so it will be easy for me to get a “carte de séjour” until my French nationality has been finalized.  Here in the US, I’m a French teacher.  I’m exploring many avenues to make money while in France, all the while keeping my schedule free enough to accomodate a school schedule that’s less than friendly to mothers who work full-time.

I’m sure I’ve skipped out on many of the details, and I may need to further edit this post, but I wanted to get it out there.  This whole year, I’ve scoured the Internet for people like us, making the big move.  It’s hard to find information, so if you have questions for someone who’s going through the transition right now, feel free to ask me questions 🙂

American French teacher, living in France, living the dream.

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