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Study Abroad

Florence Week 8 (+ Bordeaux + Paris)

This was a midterms week like none I've ever had before. Typically, midterm projects at CMU result in very little sleep, irregular meals, and an unhealthy amount of stress. But not in Italy. 

 View out a school window

View out a school window

I did have a project or exam for every class, but it was far more manageable. There are no studios to pull all nighters in, so there was hardly even an option to take a seriously unhealthy turn. 

Monday through Wednesday I turned in my Materials and Packaging projects, and took a Materials and Italian exam. I spent most of Wednesday working on preparing my studio midterm, which was a PDF presentation of the work we've done for our projects so far. 

 Study break evening walk 

Study break evening walk 

I walked into class Thursday morning to find I was the first presenter (in a class full of Italians)! I found this a bit goofy at first, since I don't actually go here and it might be better to see an example first. However, it turned out to be really nice since I tend to get nervous public speaking, but I didn't have time to gather nerves before going. I'm pretty happy with how mine turned out, and so was my professor. Then I got to sit back, relax, and watch the rest of the presentations for a few hours. 

My professor let me leave early since I still needed to pack for my trip to France. She's French herself, and told me to enjoy plenty of wine while I was away. 

I had a perfect couple of hours packing, eating lunch, and relaxing after midterms before heading to the airport. I got there over two hours early because the shuttle was faster than I accounted for. I even thought to myself, this day is going too well, I guess it's about time for something to go wrong. 

Man, did I jinx myself. 

I had previously tried to check-in online, but it kept saying it wasn't possible to do so for this flight. Upon arrival, I decided to try an AirFrance kiosk since I didn't have any bags to check. Rather than printing my boarding pass, the machine printed a note that said something along the lines of "Can't print your ticket, show this note to an AirFrance worker". I got in line, and though there were only 5 people ahead of me, it took almost 40 minutes for my turn to arrive. When I finally got up front, the lady told me I was on stand-by. There is too much wind, so the plane might be too heavy to take-off with all of the passengers. I found this absolutely absurd since I was one of the first people to arrive, and there's no way that my weight plus one backpack equals more than any of the other adults in line plus their huge suitcases. 

They told me to come back in 20 minutes. When I did, they said 20 more minutes. At that point it was near boarding time, and I began to worry. The other passengers on stand-by were getting anxious too, and soon, nobody was standing in a proper line. Everybody was pushing to get up front and demanding their tickets. The workers said there was nothing they could do besides wait for the captain to call. At 5:55, 5 minutes before take-off, there was a phone call, and the printer began dispensing tickets. The workers called out people's names, and one-by-one, passengers sped off to get on the plane. In the end, I was standing there along with 5 other unfortunate French people as we were told to go to ticketing and get new flights. 

I was pretty devastated since I knew this meant I would miss working at the market the following morning. It didn't really matter what compensation they gave, nothing could make up for an experience like that. 

After waiting in line again, we were finally told the new plan. We would take a car to Bologna, eat dinner for free, spend the night in a hotel, get free breakfast, take a shuttle to the airport, fly to Lyon, then finally fly to Bordeaux and land at 10 am. In addition, we'd be given 250 euro each to compensate for all of the trouble. In the end, it wasn't a terrible deal, but it was still hard to get over the fact that I wouldn't be able to work at the market. 

The hotel turned out to be really nice. The six of us had a great dinner together, which helped me practice my French. We each got our own rooms (which made sense for me, but was silly for the other people since there was a couple that came together, and a couple of grandparents with their grandson). I tried to make the best of the situation so I took a hot bath, and sprawled out on my king-sized bed. 

The following morning, we arrived at the Bologna airport at 5:30 am, headed to check-in only to be told our flight may not take off due to "technical problems". The French couple immediately threw a fit, and I just began to laugh. I felt it must be some sort of a joke. 

And though I don't think it actually was, 5 minutes passed, and the worker told us everything was alright and we could check-in. We were fairly skeptical, but she assured us we had nothing to worry about. 

In the end, our flights to Lyon then Bordeaux were both on time. My old host family picked me up from the airport, and after an hour drive, I finally made it back to Soussac. 

The rest of the trip was absolutely lovely. It was their vacation too, so we got to spend plenty of time together. 

We enjoyed some beautiful walks through their vineyards. 

One day, we took a trip to the ocean. We climbed the Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe.

Then we took a walk through Arcachon, a seaside town known for oyster harvesting. 

Another day, we visited Saint-Émilion, one of the principal red wine areas of Bordeaux. 

Toward sunset, we drove around and saw some of the small castles that produce their own wine in person. 

Throughout the entire weekend, we played a bunch of board games and ate long meals together (as we always did when I lived there last year). One night, they pulled out a hot plate, and we made mini crepes together after dinner. 

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It was so nice to live in a home with a family for the weekend, in contrast to my tiny apartment with other students. 

Since Tuesday was All Saints Day, we had the day off from school, so this trip was longer than my typical weekend travels. I felt it was the perfect opportunity to visit my family. 

Tuesday morning (basically Monday night), we left their house at 3:30 am to catch my flight at 6. My luck was much better this time around. I was able to do an online check-in the night before, so I knew I had a seat secured. 

I slept like a baby and woke up in Paris Orly at 7 am. I had several hours until my next flight from Charles de Gaulle, so I decided to take advantage of the layover and visit the city. 

I took the airport shuttle and got off at Port Royal, about a 20 minute walk away from the Seine. I planned to walk from there to the station at Saint-Michel, stopping at whatever I found interesting along the way. 

I walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was absolutely beautiful and perfect without any tourists. I did see a surprising amount of people running though.

I noticed on my map that Sorbonne, the former University of Paris, was nearby. I took a detour to check it out.

I stopped at the Café du Paris for a lovely and extremely filling breakfast including a croissant, a slice of baguette with butter & jam, a ham omelette, freshly squeezed oj, and hot chocolate. While it was a fairly chilly morning, I sat under a heater outside the entrance of the café and enjoyed some people watching. 

 Omelette not pictured

Omelette not pictured

Later, I walked along the Seine and ended my tour at the Saint-Michel station. I came just in time for the train, and got to the airport 2 hours in advance. I enjoyed a fresh lunch near my gate as I mourned the fact that I had to leave. 

The few hours of sleep finally caught up to me, and I fully fell asleep in minutes. I was pretty impressed with myself since I usually have a hard time falling asleep and I was sitting in the middle seat. When I awoke, the Italian woman next to me told me I was a good sleeper. 

It was weird to be back in Florence after what felt like a week away. I soon realized I only had 3 classes to attend this week, 2 of those being Italian, before another weekend trip. 

Ah, la vita è dolce in Europa. 

Julia Ainbinder