Organizing Travel

As I begin to plan my last big trip, I can’t believe how far I have come as a traveller since the beginning of the semester. Upon planning our first trip away from API back in the first week of March, my friends and I were slightly nervous that we wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of seeing important sights and doing as much as we possibly could in one weekend. Conquering a city in a weekend trip is no easy task!

Being an avid list maker, I was able to develop a system. We would make a list of the sights we wanted to see, and in order to make the most of our time, we would use Google Maps to track the distances between the sights as well as in relation to where we were staying. We would then prioritize the list and make sure that the sights we absolutely wanted to see would be done first. This ended up being extremely helpful because we would get tired as the day went on, and were therefore glad that we got to see what we wanted to see early in the day.

Travelling in large groups is no easy task, so at times it is important to realize that everyone wants to see different things. Having individual priorities is key, so you know that you can get the most of your own travel experience despite a group who may not agree on every decision. Making a schedule of what you want to accomplish each day is also important, especially if the weather in a particular location makes a difference in your plans!

Another lesson we learned was booking trips early. Watching flight prices can be stressful, but it is necessary in order to get the correct dates and times at a good price. Although we learned this the hard way for several trips, it benefitted us in the long run to book many of our flights far in advance. Plus, this gave us more time to plan for the activities we wanted to do in each location!

For every trip, we now use the same system in order to plan our time efficiently. Although travel can be stressful, it is important to realize that with proper organization and time devoted to research, a trip can go smoothly, even in a large group.

Sarah Scheinholtz is a student at the University of Michigan and an official API Student Blogger. Sarah is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Teterías

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View of the Alhambra from one of my favorite teterías!

Granada, my host city, never fails to astound me. For such a small city, there are an incredible amount of things to do each and every day.

One of my absolute favourite things to do here is go to a tetería (tea shop)! Since there is a strong Arabic influence here in Granada, Moroccan tea shops are everywhere. Being a tea lover since before I got here, my love and taste for tea has only grown! Go to any given tetería and you will encounter endless delicious options of tea, including ones specific to Granada and areas around Andalusia!

Personal favourites include: Pakistani (it tastes like Christmas, in a cup!), any flavor including jasmine, and any infusion including fruit! Also if there are any hot chocolate options, just imagine banana flavored hot chocolate, or peach, or mint or basically ANY flavor… it’s heaven!

No matter what mood I’m in, tea is always the answer to everything!

Becca Mincieli is a student at St. Joseph’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Becca is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.

Niceties

I have to apologize because recently I’ve turned more into a South of France blogger than a Paris blogger…but who doesn’t love being on vacation? In fact, the French Riviera is like a perma-vacation, and it’s not even high season yet – regardless, I knew that I had to go back! This time, it was a long weekend in Nice, a little coastal city located pretty close to the Italian border, and it shows.  

I used Airbnb (no buzz marketing here, it’s just a wonderful alternative to hotels and hostels, especially on a budget!) to find a small studio apartment on Promenade des Anglais. My wallet had the choice between picking something right on the beach or right in le Vieux-Nice, and eventually the coastline view won out. You can probably see why.

What I quickly discovered about Nice is that it’s filled with little surprise adventures, like a treasure map without any labels. Although it’s apparently the fifth most populous city in France, Nice definitely feels cozy – which means that most things are walkable. This makes half of the adventure. The first to-do? Find the most amazing views of the Mediterranean. Don’t try this at home – unless, of course, you live in Nice, in which case this little jetty can be found at the opening of the very protected harbor.

Some fences just practically have “jump me!” written on them.

For this view? Worth the discomfort of scaling anything in a sundress.

Maybe I haven’t made a great first impression – not all of the incredible sights of Nice take jumping over fences. In fact, as the top-rated thing to-do in Nice on TripAdvisor, Castle Hill is by no means a hidden gem, nor is it “frowned upon” to get to. But it is a little difficult, and that’s because you have to take the stairs.

That’s only the beginning.  

There’s an elevator…but you have to take the stairs. Trust me.  

Sorry, I don’t make the rules here.

About halfway up, you’ll come across La Tour Bellanda. If you’re lucky, it’ll be just abandoned enough for you to have full access to an incredible panoramic view. Bonus: there will be an old French man playing accordion music to really set the atmosphere.

Once you’ve climbed all of the stairs there are to climb, you’ll realize that you just stumbled upon a tiny universe. It’s a park, a castle, a restaurant, and it’s on the very top of a hill. There’s plenty to see here and I spent at least two hours exploring all of it before descending and moving on to the famous Old Town.  

Nice’s laid-back attitude and friendly city goers was definitely a nice break from Paris, and it’s worth a day-trip (if not longer, of course) should you find yourself in Southern France. Luckily enough, Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur has an extensive TER commuter rail that connects the province’s major towns, so it’s very easy – and cheap – to visit neighboring places. Although Cannes, Antibes, and Monaco are all accessible via train, I decided to take the simple 5 minute voyage eastward to Villefranche-sur-mer for some quaint village views and actual sand beaches. Did I mention that Nice’s beach is made of pebbles? Villefranche-sur-mer is where to go for that real sand feeling. You know what I mean.

Marisa Benitez is a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

A Playlist Worthy of Paris

Paris is an amazing city to be in. The food is great, the smells are (usually) great, and the sights are unparalleled. But when you find yourself on the metro in need of something to take your mind off of the mass of bodies that threatens the safety of your personal bubble, I recommend turning your music up and your consciousness of the hoards around you ‘off’.  

  1. City of Blinding Lights – U2

  2. Paris Holds The Key To Your Heart – Anastasia

  3. It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy – Passion Pit

  4. Quelqu’un M’a Dit – Carla Bruni

  5. Long Distance Call (25 Hours A Day Remix) – Phoenix

  6. Jenny Don’t Be Hasty – Paolo Nutini

  7. You Belong To Me – Carla Bruni

  8. Chicago Clocks – Sufjan Stevens vs. Coldplay

  9. Sympathique – Pink Martini

  10. Paris – Yael Naim

  11. Lost In The Light – Bahamas

  12. Stay Alive – Jose Gonzalez

Leah Kuttruff is a student at the College of Charleston and an official API Student Blogger. Leah is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

My Gateway to Africa

Never judge a book by its cover. Although trite, the message is very true. It is also something that was reinforced in my mind this past weekend. Prior to my venture to Morocco, I admit apprehension was my dominant feeling. I was told the country was unsafe, especially for female travelers. I was warned of hustlers, drug dealers, and beggars. I however wanted to enter the country with an ill-conceived notion, unaffected by the doubts and worries of those around me. I promised myself I would not settle for false perceptions and shallow observations; rather look beyond the stereotypes to form my own opinion on this magnificent and unique country.

Although only a forty-five minute ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar, Morocco is worlds different than the country I left behind. Its culture is centuries old and to this day remains an essential part to Moroccan life. Moroccans are still incredibly connected to their environment and cooperate with nature, as opposed to destroying it. I stepped onto a land that was pristine and pure, and virtually untouched by the perils of society. We drove winding roads alongside mountains and green pastures. Forsythia bloomed on mountainsides as cows, goats, and sheep roamed the terrain freely. I felt as if I went back in time.  

We made our way to Chefchaouen, a town nestled at the base of the Rif Mountains. This mountain village is oozing with color and character. Buildings are splashed in brilliant hues of blue, perfectly accentuating the green hills surrounding the town. After an hour drive through the African countryside, Morocco’s buzzing blue city was the ideal homecoming. Chefchaouen was stirring with commotion and indulging to the senses. The scent of brewing mint tea and potent spices followed me as I roamed the narrow alleyways. The city saw both sun and rain throughout the day, and would change without a moment’s notice. It was so humbling to observe the lifestyle and meet the people of such a different culture than my own. City goers appeared happy, as children played in the street with soccer balls and women in hijab gossiped at street corners. Life seemed simple and untarnished by the pitfalls of modernization.  

The next day, we rose before the sun. Leaving the Mediterranean, we drove south towards the Atlantic Coast. I was elated to see the Atlantic Ocean again after months of separation. We continued until we reached a camel farm where four camels were waiting to take us on a ride along the shore. We made acquaintances with these gentle creatures before we climbed aboard what locals call, “the ships of the desert.” I never thought I would be able to say I have ridden a camel in Africa, but now I can! It was amazing! I felt like a Moroccan princess, living out my royalty fantasy, even if it was just for a few minutes.  

We then continued along the Atlantic Coast until we reached the tiny seaside town of Asilah. This gem of a city is compiled of whitewashed houses perfectly contrasting the clear turquoise water ebbing and flowing against the sand below. We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring this gorgeous beach town and soaking up some African sun. The street walls were covered in creative murals, giving the small town an artistically fun vibe.

Africa certainly surprised me. It overwhelmed me, excited me, and intrigued me. By putting unwelcoming feelings and the prejudices of others aside, I was able to see Africa through unclouded eyes. I spoke with the locals and listened to their stories. I observed the many faces of Morocco, a beautiful country still unfamiliar to much of the world. I was very pleased with my initiation to this vast continent. I only hope I can continue to explore this stunning place well into my future. Morocco is just the beginning for me. It was merely my gateway into Africa.  

Marisa McCann is a student at Salve Regina University and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

A Playlist Worthy of Paris

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Paris is an amazing city to be in. The food is great, the smells are (usually) great, and the sights are unparalleled. But when you find yourself on the metro in need of something to take your mind off of the mass of bodies that threatens the safety of your personal bubble, I recommend turning your music up and your consciousness of the hoards around you ‘off’. 

City of Blinding Lights – U2

Paris Holds The Key To Your Heart – Anastasia

It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy – Passion Pit

Quelqu’un M’a Dit – Carla Bruni

Long Distance Call (25 Hours A Day Remix) – Phoenix

Jenny Don’t Be Hasty – Paolo Nutini

You Belong To Me – Carla Bruni

Chicago Clocks – Sufjan Stevens vs. Coldplay

Sympathique – Pink Martini

Paris – Yael Naim

Lost In The Light – Bahamas

Stay Alive – Jose Gonzalez

Leah Kuttruff is a student at the College of Charleston and an official API Student Blogger. Leah is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

Shopping Across the Continent

Before I left for Europe, my grandma had mentioned to me how her friend raved about the markets in Spain. After having been to several markets all over Europe already, I now understand the hype! My roommate and I have essentially become market groupies and love spending time at these outdoor shops in every country we have been to.

In Seville, the Triana Market is about a ten-minute walk from our street, and has many different kinds of fish and fresh fruit. It’s great for when we want to get food to picnic by the river on sunny warm days! 

In Barcelona, we attended the famous Boqueria Market, which had many different vendors serving dishes from all over the world, juices, candy, and fresh fruit as well. The market was huge, and slightly overwhelming at first but had a fun atmosphere. This market really sealed the deal for us- we were hooked!

Last weekend on our trip to London with API, we attended two markets that had been recommended to me by a friend who studied there last semester. Borough Market was another food market, with traditional food such as fish and chips and cider as well as a fresh pasta booth, lots of olive oils, and a huge dessert and baked goods section! My friends and I got cheeseburgers, which we had been missing in Spain, and they were incredible. The food was so fresh, and we watched it being made in front of us.

Camden Market was next, and was an amazing experience- definitely my favorite market so far! In addition to having every kind of cuisine under the sun, this market also had homemade crafts and shops. We spent two hours there, but I easily could have been there all day.

Markets are an interesting shopping experience because they allow people to purchase items in a more unique way than you might at a supermarket or a shopping mall in the United States. Where at these places you can make one stop and get everything you need, at markets you can browse the options and pick what you’re looking for from the best vendor; it’s a much more individualized process. Plus, everything is so fresh and unique! I’m looking forward to seeing what other markets across Europe have to offer.

Sarah Scheinholtz is a student at the University of Michigan and an official API Student Blogger. Sarah is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Lost in London

I recently traveled to one of the most diverse cities that I have ever laid eyes on: London, England. It was a grand experience eating food from a different country every night: the traditional fish and chips for lunch, an Arabic twist with hummus and lamb shawarma for dinner, and boba tea with aloe from Chinatown to wash it all down. It was also grand to experience these different pockets of culture around the city. However, it was not so grand trying to arrive to these places in a timely fashion. And in one piece…

Lamb Shawarma, hummus and pita bread

What can I say? It was goood.

There was one thing in particular that made it difficult for me to navigate the city: the tangle of rails they call the Underground. Now, I’ve been told that the London Underground is very easy to understand compared to other metro systems like, for instance, New York. Nevertheless, I grew up in Richmond where there is no metro line at all, and I spent the last two months in Seville where there is exactly one metro line. The sheer magnitude of the Underground map was enough to confuse me.

I spent the first night walking from Oxford Circus to our hotel. After two hours of getting lost way too many times and a literal encounter with death on account of looking the wrong way to cross the street, I decided that the metro was definitely the lesser of the two evils. I wasn’t so sure after I, intending to ride the Underground, accidentally paid about 6 pounds for a one-way train ride exactly one stop from the Globe to the city center. In my defense, the train station and the Underground were in the same place, but that’s beside the point. Over the course of the weekend, I was able to get the hang of it. Before you know it, I was going from Portobello Road to Borough Market with ease. I even got a great deal on a tank top from Camden market to commemorate my mastery of the Underground.

Sherlock Holmes statue

Overall, I would have to say that getting lost was probably the most effective way to get a feel for the city. I met lots of great, friendly people willing to point me in the right direction, and I saw sides of London that I may have missed had I not passed them three times looking for the street sign. My recommendation for first-timers in London would be to hop off the tour bus, wear comfortable shoes, ALWAYS carry a map, and get lost in London!

Sasha Jervay is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and an official API Student Blogger. Sasha is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Sunshine and Siestas

Well I can officially say that spring has finally met Sevilla. Orange trees are beginning to blossom, birds are chirping, and the streets are pulsing with life. It is such an amazing time of year to be in the capital city of Andalucía, Spain!  

Shades and sunscreen on, I left my apartment last Thursday to seek adventure on the streets. After traveling the past few weekends, it was such a nice change of pace to just relax and explore my host city for a bit. I walked the streets lined with horse-drawn carriages, took photos, and let my senses wander. A variety of fragrances danced in the heat as I passed by street vendors and quaint cafes. The symphonic tunes of an accordion created a charming ambiance as I strolled through El Centro. Spontaneous flamenco performances swelled the street corners, enchanting the Sevillanos and travelers alike. The sun was strong in Seville, despite it being early spring. It bounced off the whitewashed houses and the glorious baroque facades of ancient buildings. I found a spot in the shade, pulled out a Spanish novel, and basked in the most exquisite spring day. Seville is certainly a special place to live. It is a host of stimuli and sensational wonders; a city to lose yourself in.  

Marisa McCann is a student at Salve Regina University and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Provence, in Pictures in Categories

I spent the first full weekend of March on an API excursion to Provence and it was quite the way to start off the month! Some places – in particular, spectacularly beautiful places - are much better “told” in photos, so I’ve arranged my photos from the trip into collages based on their subjects. Bon voyage through my photo essay!

1. Multitudes

From top left clockwise: Flowers from the giant open-air market in Aix-en-Provence // Assorted spices from the produce area of the Aix market // Hand-crafted perfume in the Musée Exposition du Parfum in Cassis // A shot taken of the boats in Marseille’s Vieux-Port

2. Architecture

Aix-en-Provence // Aix-en-Provence // Le Panier in Marseille // rooftops in Marseille

3. From the top

Looking over Marseille from the top of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde // Top of the steps facing Cassis Harbor // View from the hotel’s rooftop terrace in Aix-en-Provence // The harbor-side of the view from Notre-Dame de la Garde

4. People

Jaclyn looking happy despite the freezing Mediterranean water // Nicole excitedly explaining something or other to Emily while in a restaurant in Aix-en-Provence (not pictured: delicious woodfire pizza) // Matt posing with the flowers we received in celebration of Journée internationale de la femme (International Day of Women) // Emily and Danielle smiling on the beach after being told “it would go on the blog!”

5. Seaside

Beachside in Cassis // Colors of the Mediterranean // Coast of Marseille // Edge of the harbor in Marseille, with Notre Dame de la Garde in the background!

Marisa Benitez is a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

Florentine Fare

As of late, I have been choosing a restaurant almost daily to have dinner in. This week, I have been to a few local trattorias, and I have noticed one thing that shows up on all the menus: ribollita.

Ribollita is a traditional Florentine peasant dish whose name literally means, “reboiled.” The dish is a bread and vegetable soup, traditionally made with leftover bread, cannellini beans (another Florentine staple), and vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, beans, and onion. It is a very hearty and delicious stew, good for lunch, usually served as primi in a restaurant.

Getting to know the foods of Florence is one of my favorite aspects of studying abroad; food says so much about a culture. I have also found that more often than not, it is the little holes in the wall that serve some of the freshest, traditional, delicious meals. Food is obviously a large part of Italian culture and I am so happy to be experiencing it. 

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Last week, I went into Eataly the specialty Italian food store near the Duomo. There is a large selection of pastas, fresh breads, spreads, cheeses, sauces, antipasti, and much more. In the back of the store, there are a few counters where you can order and eat a meal, and there is also little stand in part of the store that serves sandwiches. When I saw two girls ordering these aforementioned sandwiches, I immediately wanted one…they looked delicious! I assumed that the meat was some sort of ham or something, it came on a deliciously fresh-looking ciabatta roll, and you could choose between either a spicy chili sauce or a green sauce.

So naturally, loving food as much as I do, I ordered one of these sandwiches. While the sign above the stand said exactly what these sandwiches were, I did not pay much attention because my eyes and my stomach had already made up my mind for me, no matter what the sandwich was. After taking my first bite, I decided to look up what I was eating. The meat had a relatively smooth texture and I did enjoy my first bites, so why not see what it was that I was eating?

I typed into Google “lampredotto” and clicked the first link in the search results. It just so happened that I had accidentally decided to eat a Florentine peasant dish made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow. While this probably would have bothered some people, I was actually excited to be eating something that Florence is well known for, and I have tried tripe before, so I was basically just eating a tripe burger.

The lampredotto is incredibly rich and filling, so I was not able to finish it all, but I would recommend it to any adventurous eaters who have relatively flexible palates. After eating the lampredotto, I realize how common it is around Florence, because I see it everywhere now. I have heard that Da Nerbone, a famous eatery within Mercato Centrale, has good lampredotto, although I am sure good lampredotto is not hard to find around here. While I probably would not get it again, I am definitely glad that I tried it because those are the types of cultural experiences I want to have during my time in Florence! Here is the renowned lampredotto:

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Hanna Daboul is a student at UMass Amherst and an official API Student Blogger. Hanna is studying abroad with API in Florence, Italy.

Café con Leche

Eating out in Spain is certainly an experience that I have forced myself to become accustomed to.  However, it has allowed me to immerse into the culture in the best way I know how; through food, and particularly coffee.

The experience of getting coffee in Spain is very different than in America.  For example, while in America there are about a thousand different ways to order coffee, in Spain there are very few options offered.  For people like me who normally drink coffee in a specific form, adaption was necessary.  

While at home, I will normally get coffee on my way to class and drink it there; however, the availability of “to go” is virtually impossible to find in Spain.  Aside from Starbucks, there are minimal options of places to take coffee out of the restaurant with you.  Instead, my friends and I have become accustom to meeting up in between classes and getting coffee together, which is about a two-hour affair.  Our favorite coffee place is right across the street from school, and as of last week we have officially become regulars there because the waiters know all of our orders!  This was our personal goal because it has created a much more personable experience than what we are used to.  In addition to getting to know the waiters, we have been able to interact with locals and simply observe our surroundings. 

The on the go concept of American coffee does not allow you to truly enjoy the experience of drinking it, because chances are, you are thinking about something else or drinking it solely for caffeine purposes.  While these still hold true, getting coffee in Spain has become a much more cultural activity.  We learned that many Spaniards have a second breakfast/coffee break around 10:00 A.M., because lunch is so late in the day.  This coincides perfectly to the time that my friends and I get coffee, which is a fun way to participate in the local flavor.  During our coffee breaks, we are able to sit outside and chat while enjoying the day and each other’s company.  Plus, you can get toast with Nutella, which is an extreme added bonus.     

Sarah Scheinholtz is a student at the University of Michigan and an official API Student Blogger. Sarah is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Intercambios

Being a Spanish major, my primary reason for coming to Spain was to learn both the language and the culture. However, when I first arrived last semester, I didn’t realize just how hard it could be to meet locals. It’s very easy to get caught up meeting Erasmus students or other Americans from the group. While they are fun and extremely friendly, I couldn’t help but wonder who else could be calling this city home. Actually home, born and raised!

So, with the help of API, I started seeking out “intercambios” or language exchanges. An intercambio is a language exchange where people can come together and meet in order to practice the language they are trying to learn. Here in Granada, Spain, everyone speaks Spanish, and since English is such a valuable language to learn, there is never a lack of eager English learners, thus making it easy to find a great Spaniard friend!

Since these people are normally locals, they are able to tell you the best place to get tapas, or the best and cheapest movie theatre in town, or can take you to places that only locals know about! The possibilities are endless when you have a friend who was brought up in the culture and lifestyle of the city you are studying in. Through these intercambios, I have made friendships that will last a lifetime, even when I am no longer on the same continent. Whether it is meeting up to practice our language skills, going on hikes, playing fuze-ball, going to salsa classes, hot springs or having cultural dinners together, my time abroad would not be the same if it were not for my friends I met through intercambios.

View of the Alhambra from a tetaría (tea shop) in the Albayzín that I discovered with my intercambio friend.

Overlooking Granada from a hidden terrace while the sun sets.

An amazing hike through the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a group of “strangers.”

Eating figs off wild tree while on a hike!

Becca Mincieli is a student at St. Joseph’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Becca is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.

A Private Tour of Hôtel-Dieu

I didn’t originally anticipate that I would be “visiting” the inside of Paris’ oldest hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, but as it turns out, I am just as clumsy in France as I was two months ago in America. So when I accidentally sliced the base of my finger while I was cooking one day, I took one look at it and knew that I, unfortunately, would be making a trip to the nearby hospital. What’s studying abroad without a few surprises?

We can rewind here a little – I didn’t go straight away to the hospital. In fact, when I called API about what had happened, they instead directed me to the closest pharmacy, where a pharmacist could determine whether or not stitches were necessary. French pharmacies are a bit different than the regular American CVS or Rite-Aid: the pharmacists that work there can diagnose walk-in clients, dispense some medication without a French doctor’s prescription, and, as I soon learned, administer proper first-aid on young American girls who come in with “profoundly” cut fingers.

While I was at the pharmacy, I made conversation with the nurse as she bandaged my hand. She assured me about two vital things: one, that I had to go to the hospital and get stitches; and two, that French hospitals were much different (read: less expensive) than American hospitals, and that I had nothing to worry about on that front.

Photos I’m not sure I was supposed to be taking inside of the waiting room at Hôtel-Dieu.   

I met one of my API program assistants outside of the closest metro stop and she escorted me to the salle d’urgence on the side of the building. There was only a small waiting time until the nurses saw me. I was surprised, coming from the US system, that it didn’t seem much like an urgence to the nurses or the doctor that I eventually saw – everything was much more casual than I expected. But everyone I met was overwhelmingly nice, and the doctor had me stitched up in no time at all (well, not before telling me all about his daughter who lived in Sacramento when I mentioned I was from Los Angeles!).

After gaining four stitches in my hand – and learning that I would have to come back the next week to get them removed – I relaxed, ate a sandwich and a macaron, and went back to the API center where students were watching a biopic on Edith Piaf. My visit to the hospital was just a small hiccup in my study abroad experience, and Paris moves on no matter what. C’est la vie!

Marisa Benitez is a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

Baby Steps and Getting Lost

I have now been in Paris for four weeks. To think that four weeks ago, I was about to go to sleep in my own bed at home is unfathomable to me - home? Where I sleep in a full-sized bed and have the space to shave in my shower? Sounds like a foreign concept to me.

This weekend was my first weekend away from the city, and it was quite enjoyable. I thought of it as a mini venture into a homestay-esque environment; exotic to me, since I chose to live in a dormitory. I stayed with a distant family friend and her family in Fontainebleau, about 45 minutes outside of the city. I invited one friend to join me for the weekend and two others to join us for the day in touring the chateau that the town of Fontainebleau is famous for. We departed from Gare du Lyon on Saturday morning and found our way to the quai with two minutes to spare. About fifteen minutes into the ride, we realized that the stop we were looking for wasn’t on the map inside of the train. Cue four-person freak out. No worries, we decided, we’d get off at the first stop and turn back. Except now, we deduced, we were on an express train - we had passed several stops at high speed.

It seemed, in the heat of the moment, that we had attracted some attention. After explaining our misdirection to an angel of a fellow passenger, we were told that we were on the right train, it was simply a route that used RER D cars (a more express-style metro path that has fewer stops and routes that go outside of the city). Relief and American humiliation washing over us, we finished the ride and met our liaison, my “temporary host mom”’s husband.

As expected, the chateau was beautiful, comparable to Versailles in all but its gaudiness. The history on its grounds and some of its wings blew me away, with some of the building dating back to the 12th century CE.

Dinner was wine-drenched and almost completely in French (though the family is bilingual, a fellow guest spoke only French, so we accommodated to her), so most of my communication was through smiling and nodding. Also: so.much.bread. The night was capped off with the host’s son playing a few impressive covers of Blink-182, Nirvana, and the Chili Peppers. We loved it.

So thus began the first of many weekends away from Paris - coming up are Provence, Dublin, and Champagne. This semester is already flying by, and it’s all I can do to not dig my nails into the ground and hope that I can keep it beneath me for a little bit longer.  

Leah Kuttruff is a student at the College of Charleston and an official API Student Blogger. Leah is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.