Bienvenue à La Rochelle

The time is finally here! I’m fulfilling a life long dream of spending Summer in France! So let’s rewind a tiny bit… I just finished my French minor at university, and whilst studying French for two years was of course useful, I found it really difficult when it came to speaking with French people. After talking to some friends and doing my research, I realised that the only way to really improve my French skills is to go to France myself and fully immerse myself in the language, culture and lifestyle.

And that’s where AIM Overseas comes in. They are an organisation that provide unique study abroad opportunities for students to gain academic credit in their field of study in amazing parts of the world. And whilst scrolling away, I came across an intensive French program in a seaside town in La Rochelle. I first thought, where the heck is La Rochelle? And secondly, where do I sign up? This all happened in December, 2015. Fast forward to the 3rd of July 2016 and I was touching down in the beautiful town of La Rochelle. 

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Le port de La Rochelle

ARRIVING

I managed to get a super cheap flight from London to La Rochelle and it was a huge piece of mind knowing that my host-mother would be there to pick me up. Through this program, we have the unique experience of living with a host family (a way to really put our French skills to the test). My host family consists of Delphine, my host mother, and Laura (but more about her later). There was absolutely no messing around when it came to speaking French. I could basically hear the cogs in my brain frantically churn as I tried to remember conjugation, vocab and expressions. Ooh la la…

We threw my huge suitcase in the car and were off to her apartment, located in the centre of La Rochelle. I have my own beautiful room, in a beautiful apartment, with beautiful flowers, beautiful photos and two beautiful cats. Basically, I spent the whole evening saying ‘c’est beau!’ Delphine and I get along really well! Not only has she lived an extremely interesting life, but she’s super helpful, patient and encouraging when it comes to my French. That evening she showed me where to catch the bus from and around the port. I’m so grateful that Delphine showed me around and made me feel so welcome on my first day because the first day is hard, I’m not going to lie. There’s so many words and thoughts running around your head, but it’s reassuring to know that your host family is there for you!

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Le pain et un grand sourire

CLASSES

Before you start classes, we took a little test so that we were put in the class that corresponded with our level of French. I’m glad we did have that exam because I was worried I would struggle with the content. In my class, there are students from Virginia and Washington DC, China and Oklahoma. I’m the only Australian, but it’s great because I get to meet people from all over! Classes start at 8:30am and go until 12:45pm (with a 20 minute coffee break in the middle). Our teacher is also very patient and supportive. In class the activities we do vary from grammar, reading, listening, watching news clips, doing small presentations or playing hangman.

LUNCH

Probably the most important part of the day is LUNCH! This week varied from buying crepes by the port, to making sandwiches at home, to hitting up the supermarchés and buying food for a little picnic. We get about 2 hours for lunch which is a perfect amount of time to enjoy some to die for food and soak up some sun.

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Les autres étudientes australiennes 

ACTIVITIES

The best thing (so far) about this program is that it’s not just all about learning the language. It’s about the culture, history, food and people as well. On our first afternoon, we toured the university to get our bearings. Then we had an early mark and went on a mission to find ice cream! (The ice cream here is amazing!)

On day two we had a guided tour of La Rochelle – all in French. The best part is when you actually understand what the guide is saying… it’s how you know that you’re already starting to get the hang of it. It was great to learn about this complicated and fascinating history of this place! And even better to snap lots of photos!

Throughout the week I also watched France beat Germany in the Euro 16 and saw just how much France LOVE their football, spent every afternoon at the beach, ate at least 3 baguettes, hired a bike for the month, ate 1 more baguette, went exploring the town and improved my French tenfold!

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Mon vélo pour le mois

GASTRONOMY

So when I said this program is also about the culture, history, food and people…. I mainly meant food. Another girl in the AIM program and I are taking the ‘gastronomy’ course, where we learn about the art of French cuisine, wine, cognac, cooking….. do I need to say more? It’s all centred around food. We had a bit of an introduction to our Gastronomy class this week where we talked about ‘the art of setting a table’ and also discussed various regions in France and their famous products. We then got to taste Galette, which is a simple yet delicious cake like dessert which is special to the region of La Rochelle! If I return to Australia 10kgs heavier, I will have no regrets because everything here is DELICIEUX!

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Le centre ville

OTHER EVENTS

On Sunday, Delphine took me on a cute little picnic to Île de Ré, a quaint island about 20 minutes from La Rochelle, connected to the mainland by a huge bridge! We went swimming at two beautiful beaches, went exploring a little village called Ars-en-Ré, and the markets there. We then had a magnificent picnic on the beach complete with 2 different types of baguettes, 2 types of cheese, melon and hot coffee.

That evening Laura arrived, (remember the girl I was talking about earlier?). She’s from Columbia and she’s studying French at another place in La Rochelle. She will be living with Delphine for 2 months so I’m excited to get to know her over the next month while I’m still here! And maybe learn some Spanish!

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Delphine et moi allons mangé une pique-nique

This first week has absolutely flown by! My mind is exploding with French but I feel myself improving bit by bit and day by day. I make lots of mistakes but my confidence is growing and that’s the most important thing! Can’t wait to see what this week holds!

An Essential Guide To London

Lately I’ve been asked a lot from my lucky jet setter friends, ‘what are the essential things to do and see in London?’ I usually reply with ‘depends if you want to see the touristy London, or the real London?’ And whilst I only lived in London for a year and am still no expert on the real London, here’s my list of awesome things that you must see and do in the fabulous city of history and culture, LONDON!

Don't be afraid to do some sight seeing at night! You get a beautiful different perspective on things minus all the tourists.
Don’t be afraid to do some sight seeing at night! You get a beautiful different perspective on things minus all the tourists.

Photo Ops

1. Big Ben. Of course.

2. The Red Telephone Box. Again. Of course. And don’t worry, they’re EVERYWHERE!

'Ello Govna
‘Ello Govna

3. Piccadilly Circus TDK neon signs. Kind of unmissable if you venture into the city.

4. Tower Bridge. So much history and beauty. Get a good shot from the Southbank.

996021_731518820196469_1823809950_n 5. Buckingham Palace. Obviously.

Culture

1. Camden (Markets). Pretty much one of my favourite parts of London. You can walk around aimlessly for hours and find a good feed and bargain along the way. With music, buskers and weird and wonderful things everywhere, it’s a must see. Plus an amazing music scene! Amy Winehouse ring any bells? This was her territory.

Camden with my girl
Camden with my girl

2. Brick Lane. Possibly one of the coolest places ever. Located in East London and just a short walk from Liverpool Street, Brick Lane is a hipsters paradise. Amazing pop up food stalls, underground vintage markets (I bought my pair of Converse from there for 20pounds), street performers and AMAZING Indian cuisine. If you want cheap and authentic Indian then this it the place to go. Hidden between the high rises of Liverpool Street, it really is a hidden gem.

3. Covent Garden. Beautiful restaurants and a few little markets hidden around, conveniently located right in the middle of the city.

Food

1. Carnaby Street. Lots of cute little restaurants and bars scattered along the street it’s a great find and a lot of fun.

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2. Any markets. Camden, Brick Lane, Southbank, Notting Hill, Borough Markets…

3. Browns for High Tea. If you’re in London then you must indulge and have a high tea experience. I was fortunate enough to go with some family members and it was a simply divine dining experience.

Expensive but beautiful little cakes
Expensive but beautiful little cakes

Galleries and Museums

1. The British Museum. I went here about 4 or 5 times and still didn’t see everything! Make sure you don’t miss Cleopatras Mummy or the Rosetta Stone.

2. The National Gallery. Prime location, overlooking Trafalgar Square. Again, a day simply is not enough but my (biased) recommendation is checking out the Romantic’s artwork.

3. The National Portrait Gallery. Adjacent to the National Gallery, it’s worth the detour to spend an hour or two here. When I visited, there was an exhibition on Miss Marilyn Monroe and I was in love.

Chillin in Trafalgar Square
Chillin in Trafalgar Square

History

1. The Tower of London. If you want to dive deep into 13th Century London, this is the place to do it!

2. Shakespeare’s Globe. If you’re a poetry/literature nut like me then you’ll probably swoon when you see it. If you’re not too keen on paying super high prices, every now and again they have deals on tickets.

3. John Keats House in Hamstead Heath. Again, if you’re an English Romantic Literature fan… you CANNOT miss this. I studied John Keats in English at high school and have since had a fascination of him and his work. Being at his actual house and in the surrounding neighbourhood was so inspiring and overwhelming, I may have shed a tear or two.

Swooning over Mr Keats
Swooning over Mr Keats

A Little Something Extra

1. The Heron Tower. Located just near Liverpool Street tube station is this fabulous 40 floor tower. If you dress up pretty nicely and say to the guy at the door ‘I’m just going up for drinks’ then he’ll let you past. Press number 38 and you’ll shoot up in a glass elevator. Up the top of the building is something spectacular. An amazing 5star bar, a sushi restaurant and a fantastic view (which is free). I’ve been up there a few time and not purchased anything, just to check out the view and it’s splendid every time. If you feel like splurging, why not enjoy a glass of wine whilst overlooking the spectacular city.

Some of the view from the Herron Tower
Some of the view from the Herron Tower

Things to give a miss

1. The Tate Modern. OK if you love modern art… go for it. Even with my open mind, I still didn’t get it. Any of it.

2. The London Eye. Look at it from a distance. It’s not worth wasting the time in the huge line or money.

3. Changing of the Guard. I never went and I’m glad I saved myself a few painful hours. There’s waaaaaay too many people, you can’t really see anything and it’s all rather uneventful.

Do you have any recommendations?

xxx A

My House in Budapest…

Ok, so I don’t have a house in Budapest, but George Ezra’s song is so damn catchy, it had to be my title. Elaborating on I’M CHRISTOPHER’s blog post about contemplating going to Budapest for Blogging 101, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and pictures from my time in the beautiful Hungarian capital.

View of Parliament Building from Fisherman's Bastion
View of Parliament Building from Fisherman’s Bastion

Things to Do –

Fisherman’s Bastion – The big beautiful building atop the hill that overlooks the Danube River and the entire city.

The Fisherman's Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion

Christmas Markets – I was lucky enough to be in Budapest the week after Christmas and they still had their gorgeous markets set up. I spent hours wandering through the maze of them, looking at little knick knacks and buying amazing pastries!

House of Terror – Now a museum, this building was once occupied by the Nazis and then the Soviet Union and tells of the horrors of Hungarian people and their devastating history.

Szechenyi Baths – Beautiful thermal baths with temperatures between 38-40degrees Celsius. My friends and I went at night time (tickets were cheaper after 7pm) and the place was beautiful at night! We drank beer and champagne in the baths and relaxed until close. Definitely the highlight of my time in Budapest.

At the thermal baths
At the thermal baths

Tips – 

Prepare – Hungarian is a very interesting and basically indecipherable to the tourist who can only speak English and bad French, so I’d highly recommend researching and saving directions, street names, numbers etc before you arrive.

Be Safe – Like travelling anywhere, safety is important… especially with cabs. There are signs everywhere at the airport urging tourists to book cabs or only use a specific company for your safety.

Pack your walking shoes – Do a walking tour of Budapest. It’s the best, easiest and cheapest way to see all of the sights, learn about the history from a local and capture some amazing photos!

BUDAPEST
BUDAPEST

Do you have anything to add to this list? I was only in Budapest for 2 nights so missed out on seeing and doing a few things so let me know what I should do next time in the comments below!

x A