Saturday, December 11, 2010

À Bientôt, France

In just another hour, I'll be hopping on a bus that will take me from Ambialet to Toulouse. From there, the group will fly to Paris, where we will (weather permitting) board a plane leaving at 4:40 pm France time to arrive in D.C. around 7 pm EST.

I wish I had taken the time to post more frequently this last week, as I could probably write a dissertation on the past few days here alone. But with final exams and tearful goodbyes, doing so just wasn't realistic. Still, I need to write one final post:

Europe has been very good to me. The highlight of my entire time here has undoubtedly been getting engaged to my best friend. I could not be more excited to come home and see you, Alek. That clock never seemed so alive as it did in Paris and Rome. We need a lifetime together in order to make up for how fast the time goes by.

Secondly, I think about how lucky I am to have been able to visit 4.5 countries (counting the Vatican) in three short months. Little pieces of Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome, and the Vatican are with me wherever I go now, and I think that's pretty spectacular.

Finally, I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to get to know some incredible people along the way. Living at Le Prieure has been nothing short of an unforgettable adventure. I've had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you.

À bientôt, France. I'll be seeing you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Saint Nick's Day

I stumbled upon this music video by Matthew West on Saint Nicholas Day and felt compelled to share.

Monday, December 6, 2010

7,000 Words

Today marks the start of exam week for all Saint Francis students here and in Loretto. In an attempt to provide my friends currently studying their badonkadonks off with a little comic relief, I've decided to upload photos from mid-semester break that were taken by my fellow tourists who didn't know the first thing about how to take a picture. You see, when you want to be in a picture with your travel buddy in front of an ancient, famous, or breathtaking (fill in the blank) and there's nobody else you know around to take that picture, you're forced to follow a very precise protocol.

You have to first wait around at the particular spot where you want your picture to be taken. You then begin the search for a character who seems nice enough to take a picture that you can someday frame and put on your mantlepiece (and who isn't going to run away with your camera). Typically, the people you're looking for is another couple trying to take a picture of their own--this way, you can offer an exchange of photography services. Seemingly judgemental, that's just what you have to do. Unfortunately, it never works out quite like how you had originally hoped. Take a look:

Remind me why we came all the way to the Vatican to see the bricks?

(This one seems okay, but the man taking this picture stretegically covered a beautiful dome with Alek's head).

New photographer, still no dome.

Yes, my friends, that is Notre Dame.

Alek was ready for this one; I was trying to explain how to use the camera.

Alek's still ready to for his picture to be taken; I just wanted to be sure she understood what I was saying.

Alek gave up; why is she still taking pictures?

See what I mean? Nobody in Paris or Rome knew how to take a proper photo! So for all you weary travelers, the next time you're asked to help someone take a picture, pretty pretty please with a cherry on top (and rainbow jimmies) take your time and do what you can to help a brother (or in my case, sister) out. Chances are, they don't know when the next time will be that they're going to return, if ever. Remember that the beauty of their scrapbook is, quite literally, in your hands!

P.S. These wrinkable city maps would have also been useful while traveling!
P.P.S. There's not many things better than getting snail mail to say "good luck" on your first day of exam week. Thanks, Mom! (And a big thank you to anyone else who has taken the time to send smail mail my way these past few's always the sunniest kind of day brightener).

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Today was our last Sunday in Ambialet, meaning that it was the last time I'll have contact with the villagers until I next return to Southern France. I am sorry to report that Pere [Fr.] Jeamme had a minor stroke earlier this week, so there was nobody to perform Mass this morning. When I first introduced myself to Pere Jeamme back in September, he somehow repeated my name as Madeline. I've earned a couple nicknames that have stuck over the years...I answer to Mel most frequently (it always catches on without my even telling people to call me that) and smile when Alek calls me Mellie, but Madeline seems a bit further off. To this day, I'm not sure how the man derived "Madeline" from Melanie, but it was a nickname I gladly adopted considering how cute I think the cartoon is.

Nevertheless, it's a very sad thing to say hello to such a sweet someone one week and then just seven days later know that they're in poor health. Though we greatly missed Pere Jeamme today, Peter and Margaret did a lovely job in leading the small congregation in a little Sunday service of our own. The townspeople took turns with today's readings and we were still able to sing the hymns we learned on Friday. As a farewell to the villagers, Saint Francis students sang "Canticle of the Sun" and "On Eagles Wings." Dr. Woods, Dr. Lynch and Debbie watched on from the audience as we gave our little performance, making me feel like they were my older sister and parents at the 5th grade choral concert! It was certainly a special morning and something I'll miss in a week from now for sure.

A group shot of today's congregation on the front steps of the church.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


What kind of terrible blogger would I be if I didn't take the time to properly thank Nutella for all he's done for me this past semester? I think that every student here would wholeheartedly agree that he's been there for us whenever we needed him. He's been there for us during our petite dejuner; all our lunches...he's a great friend to have when you need an afternoon snack and probably an even better friend after dinner. He was there for me the night I got engaged and today he helped me finish my last art history paper about Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (with some assistance from Monsieur French bread and le banana, of course). I'll be honest with you, Nutella, I never thought you could compare to Mr. Skippy, but you've sure done a swell job of getting to know me these past few months. I hope that when I return to the States, we can stay in touch every now and again. xoxo

P.S. I'm finding it nearly impossible to believe that in just one week, I'll be on a plane homeward bound! (I'm getting pretty darn excited about that).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Peter & Margaret

The group just returned from our very last choir practice with Peter and was such a bittersweet afternoon. Peter and Margaret are a British couple who live directly down the mountain from Le Prieure. They decided to retire in France about ten years ago; they keep busy by working for a bike company, guiding tourists with the best routes around the Pyrenee Mountains.

Every Friday afternoon in Ambialet, Peter and Margaret have invited the Saint Francis students to their home for choir practice. Margaret does an excellent job of teaching us the hymns for the upcoming Sunday Mass (which has greatly improved my French) while Peter plays the guitar. After we do our best singing all the French hymns, Peter and Margaret treat us to a traditional English afternoon tea (I've since decided that Earl Grey+a splash of milk is my favorite).

If I had to pick one thing that I've enjoyed most about living in Ambialet, it's probably having been given the opportunity to get to know such a darling couple. Peter and Margaret have always happily welcomed our group into their home--even when we were complete strangers. I greatly admire their kindness and think that the world would be such a better place if there were more people living in it like Peter and Margaret.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


In celebration of the first day of Hanukkah, I think it's the perfect time to describe to you one of my favorite areas in all of Paris: The Marais District. The Marais District is historically the place where Paris' Jewish community has settled. It is home to the Picasso Museum, Bastille, Victor Hugo's house, and my favorite restaurant of all time: L'as du Fallafel. The first time I ate at L'as du Fallafel, it was a planned activity for the study abroad students. After my life was forever changed by that first falafel experience, I made a point to return to the same restaurant with Alek not once--but twice more--during our short time in Paris together. Never have I ever been to such a busy restaurant or one with better service. For all my fellow Marylanders, it's like a charming cross between Damascus' Jimmie Cone and Annapolis' Chick n' Ruth's...but so much better.

Unfortunately, words cannot properly credit or accurately describe this brilliant creation. All I can say about falafel is that it is a delightful mixture of vegetables that resemble meatballs but tastes completely original. I learned by looking at everyone else sitting in the restaurant that there are multiple ways in which one can enjoy their falafel; each time I had mine in a gyro with grilled eggplant, cucumber & radish slivers, and topped with a creamy yogurt sauce. Boy would I give anything for some falafel right now. With mango juice from Israel.

Falafel #1

Falafel #2

Falafel #3

P.S. I read in my Rick Steves' Paris 2010 guidebook that Lenny Kravitz is a regular at L'as du Fallafel.
P.P.S. The last time I was there, Alek and I had the honor of sitting at the table next to his picture!