Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Marie's Estate, New Year's Eve, and Hillsong Paris

Why is it that the days leading up to my Christmas break in the U.S. seemed to crawl by at a snail's pace, but somehow I blinked and I've already been home for 10 days? It feels way longer than 10 days. And we're already nearly a week into the new year. Time is a funny thing. Wish for it to speed up, and it'll feel like the clock is standing still. Lose track of time because of busy schedules and what not, and all of the sudden you're scratching your head and wondering how on earth you've been living in France for 3 and a half months already. Je ne sais pas. 

When I got back to Paris last week (last week? seriously? it was just last week?), my poor host mom was super sick and ended up staying home for a couple days. By day 2, she was feeling better, but still took the day off work, so she gave me the day off. I took the opportunity to head out to Versailles again with the intention of visiting the palace that day since it is indoors and it has been cold outside. However, I get there, and I see this...

Are you kidding me? Yes, this is in fact the line to get into the palace. Did I miss something? It's a Tuesday afternoon for crying out loud, why are all these people here?! I thought about turning around and leaving, but Versailles isn't the easiest place to get to from my suburb, so I just decided to suck it up and visit the extensive grounds instead. The last time I came in early October, I just bought a ticket to the gardens, which are directly behind the palace. But the grounds are huuuuuge and go way past the gardens. So I took the little "Petit Train" out to the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and Marie Antionette's estate, which includes her hamlet (her little village she had built) and her farm and the grounds beyond it. This area was only 10 euro to visit, and the gardens were open to the public that day.

It was in the 50s and mostly sunny, so while it was a little chilly, it was actually a pretty pleasant day to stroll around. The more I walked, the more I fell in love with the place. I have to go back when it is warmer and rent a bike to ride around. If it is as beautiful as it was in the winter when the trees are bare and no flowers are in bloom, I can't imagine how lovely it is in the spring. Part of me can't really blame Marie for wanting to escape palace life and instead building her quaint little village to spend lazy days. But as the Queen of France, shirking her responsibilities wasn't really a luxury she could afford, and she lost her head because of it. The farm had live animals, and for the first time in my life, I heard a rooster crow in person. It was hard to believe I was at a tourist location, because it was easy to just walk along the paths and be completely separated from anyone else. I did a giant loop and ended up back at the Grand Trianon near the Grand Canal. I still didn't cover all the grounds, because the estate is just that big. I walked along the canal all the way up to the palace and by that point, it was about to close for the day. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday. Here are a few of my favorite pics of the day.

Grand Trianon

Petit Trianon

Oh hey, Marie! Thanks for inviting me to check out your place.

Marie's Hamlet and Estate

(ignore the random people at the front door taking a smoke break and ruining my picture)

Sunset over the Grand Canal

After leaving Versailles, I headed out to Garches, which is nestled between Versailles and my suburb. I was invited to dinner by one of my closest friends here in Paris, but I had never been there before. I mostly use the RER and Metro, but the SNCF trains, which mostly travel outside of the city, are not as familiar to me. But I found my way there, and was able to navigate to their apartment with no issues. I love their family. My friend A and her hubs and 3 adorable kids have been so welcoming and I’ve been so grateful for that. One of the first things A asks when I get there is if I like chicken tacos. Umm…I love Mexican food and you just made my entire night. While she’s getting dinner ready, the kids take me back and show me their rooms. The oldest two decide that we are going to play Monopoly, so before and after dinner, that’s what we did. Somewhere, they found a version of Monopoly that looked old school, but was in French, and the names of the properties were all streets in Paris. I gotta get me one of those. I hate to brag, but I'm good at this game, and I did end up winning. However, it was down to me and their 9 year old son, and though he landed on my hotel-laden properties 3 TIMES, the kid held his own until the very end. It was pretty impressive. What’s more impressive about their oldest two kids (9 and 7. The youngest is 2.) is that they already speak French quite well. The kids went to French immersion school in D.C. for 3 years, so when the husband was relocated to Paris for work, the kids were enrolled in French public school. A and I have chatted about how jealous we are at the opportunities theirs kids have, and how learning a language at that age is something we wish we could have done. So I may have beaten him in Monopoly, but he’s winning at learning French. We had to have him read a lot of the Chance cards for us. #jealous

Since we’re on the topic of French, mine is not coming along as well as I’d like. Not having been in class or looking at my notebook for nearly a month was stupid of me. I should have been periodically glancing over my notes, and now I feel like everything fell out of my head. This past Monday was my first day back in classes, and this time I was in a different class. It didn’t go well. I’m not good at the oral exercises. In fact, I suck at them. Maybe a lot of that is my confidence, and maybe it’s just that I know when others around me are better at something. The people in my class are mostly college age, which means they have just come from studying French and it is fresher in their minds. I studied it 10 years ago in college, and retained none of it. I basically was starting from scratch, even though I knew a few things I tried to teach myself over the years. I felt so crappy about myself on Monday, that I ended up leaving early with the intention of going to the school’s office to talk about alternatives, because the classroom just isn’t working for me. 

In college, I studied business. Business is a lot of theory, not rogue memorization, so in those types of classes, I need to be in a classroom. It’s how I learn best. Learning online or on my own for those types of courses just didn’t cut it for me. But learning French, this is basically memorization, and I just can’t do that in a classroom. I have to be alone with my notes, I have to really think about it, organize it in my notebook and visualize it. Then, I can collect my thoughts and speak the words I am then confident I know. But being in the classroom and being put on the spot has put me in stressful and at times embarrassing situations, and while my instructors and classmates have never made me feel uncomfortable, I just feel like an idiot. I know it’s in my head. But it’s too expensive to keep paying for these classes if my learning isn’t coming directly from the lessons, but when I’m studying the lessons on my own later. 

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit this. I wouldn’t consider myself a quitter, especially at something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. But I just need to find a way to learn the language that works for me. So Tuesday morning, I didn’t go to class. Instead, I emailed the school and explained why I didn’t think the classroom was working for me, and asked about private lessons. The one on one lessons are more expensive, yes, but if they have a spot and I could use the money I’ve already paid through the end of the year to do maybe one lesson a week, then study on my own the rest of the time, I think that would alleviate the pressure, stress, and whatever is blocking my head from being able to just grasp this language the way I want. The school emailed me back and said they were going to review my request (and they also said not to be so hard on myself). So we’ll see. If this doesn’t work out, I don’t know what my next option would be. A lot of people quit coming to language school, even if it is required for their visa. From what I can tell, the only way it would be an issue if I stopped attending all together would be if I wanted to come back next year and needed to renew my visa. Then, I would have to prove I stayed for the year. That would obviously not be a problem since I won’t be coming back for another year. But I still don’t want to quit. I’m here to learn French among other things. I just need to put my money to good use and make sure I’m learning the way I need to learn.

But back to last week. New Years Eve was the most fun I've had in a long long time. I don't know about you, but whenever I think about what NYE should be, I think huge party, dancing, and just a level of energy that can't be contained. I've seen parties like that on TV or in Times Square my entire life, and to be honest, for the last I don't know how many years, I've spent NYE alone. Why? Idk...I guess because no one I knew was doing anything and no one was assertive enough to put something together. So a year ago, I sat on my couch alone watching the ball drop in NYC on TV, then went to bed at some point after that. Not very exciting. Just another night that happened to start a brand new year. Big deal. But if you were to tell me then that one year from that night I would be getting ready to party in the new year in Paris, I'd have thought you were out of your mind. 

The night started out by meeting my friends at our friend J's apartment who happened to be out of town (sad). We planned to all spend the night there so we didn't have to go back to our homes super late, and we could just sleep in. So we went to a local grocery store, bought some cheap food for dinner and went back to the apartment to get ready to go out. I had Googled things to do in Paris on NYE, and found this website with about 20 different parties you could buy tickets for. Each party had a certain number of tickets available, so we picked the cheapest one which had a limit of 1500 people. So that is where we headed around 10:30 PM. After hopping the metro, we get out of the station, which is right along the Seine (very pretty at night), and see this super long line coming out of the venue. Ugh. By this time, we had about an hour till midnight, and we were just hoping we'd get inside and not be in this line when the new year began. With about 15 minutes to spare, we make it into the door and through security, got our drink tickets, checked out coats, and made it onto the dance floor. For an event with 1500 tickets sold, it was surprisingly not crazy crowded. There was plenty of room to dance, and the venue was beautiful with two huge dance floors, one upstairs and one downstairs. The only unbelievably crowded area was near the bar. I think we counted 4 bartenders total for I don't even know how many people. It was crazy and very squished. We were in line hoping to have champagne in hand when the clock struck midnight, but we didn't quite make it. At least we had made it inside though. With a minute left of 2015, the dance music stopped and the DJ began the countdown. It got darker and darker until finally 2016 was here and the place went crazy. I can't even describe that moment, other than to say it was so. much. freaking. fun. People are dancing, kissing, jumping up and down, screaming, hugging, the music is blaring, and I'm jumping up and down just so excited we had found such an awesome place to spend NYE. You can see a video of it on my Instagram. 10 minutes later, we finally had champagne in hand, and toasted the new year. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to come to Paris and meet friends from all over the world. The girl on the left is from Ukraine and the one on the right is from Columbia. Super fun girls and I am so happy I got to spend NYE dancing and having the time of our lives with them.
The rest of the night was just non-stop dancing. The music was mostly in English, with a few other songs thrown in, so me and my friends are dancing and singing to everything from a dance version of Adele's "Hello" to "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls. At some point, a group of French guys joined us, and I end up dancing most of the night with one of them. And when I say dancing, I mean like legit dancing, where he is teaching me some of his fancy footwork and spinning me around all over the place like he's from the cast of Dancing with the Stars. We were out until 6 AM, and here I was thinking I'd be tired by then, but nope. I could have stayed out longer, but the event was coming to an end. Sad day. We hopped on the metro back to our friend's apartment and all 3 of us passed out on her bed. An excellent New Year's Eve. I doubt any NYE will ever come close to that one.

It took me a few days to get my sleep schedule back on track after that night. On Sunday, I went to church, then took my Kindle and got some lunch and some coffee. I was killing time until 4:30, because I had found out that Hillsong church had a campus in Paris. For those that don't know, Hillsong is a huge church based out of Australia that has campuses all over the world. They are most well-known for the worship music they write and produce. A lot of churches use their music during their own services. I'll be completely honest, I kind of had a few expectations when I went, and it ended up being exactly what I was picturing. I don't want to come off like I'm being critical, but I'm definitely used to a more simple type of church where the sermons go deep into the Word, and this was not quite along those lines. The energy in the room reminded me of Wednesday night campus church services at Liberty University when I was in college. 

Instead of elaborating much on what wasn't really my cup of tea, and yes there were several things I could list, I want to name a few things that I thought were particularly awesome. Since I'm in Paris, the service is obviously not entirely in English. They go back and forth between English and French songs during worship, but they have both translations on the screen so you can know what it is you are singing. It was really cool singing these songs in French, when I don't speak the language well, but seeing the translation of the words pouring out of my mouth. The sermon was tag-teamed by the pastor, who is Australian, and a translator. So he would basically say something, and she'd repeat it in French. At first, I thought this would be distracting, but it was actually kind of cool to hear him say something, and then hear what it would sound like in French. I was trying to record a clip of this, but some church worker creeped up behind me, made me practically jump out of my skin, and told me it was prohibited because people will record it and put it online. I wanted to say, "yeah that's exactly what I planned to do, what's the big deal?" but I didn't. I guess because it's Hillsong, they are afraid of copyright stuff. Whatevs. Lame. The other awesome thing that happened was meeting the girl that was sitting next to me. I walk in, and found a seat in the back row of the front section, and a girl came in and sat down next to me. We started chatting and 2 minutes later, we're exchanging phone numbers and she says we should meet for a cup of coffee and she could help me with my French. Ok then. Didn't take long to make a friend here. Just goes back to what I said in a previous post about the church in general. It's instant community, and I love it. I will probably go back to the Hillsong service, but it definitely won't replace the church I go to on Sunday mornings. I have to say though, even going to 2 different churches this past Sunday, it made me miss Gospel Community in Lynchburg even more. So much so, that I spent yesterday catching up on some of GCC's sermons. No church is perfect, but it was exactly the right fit for me, and after spending nearly 6 years there, it was home. I miss the people, the worship, and the sermons so much.

This week has been back to a normal routine. Last week, G still had school holidays, but this week was back to walking him to school and picking him up in the evenings. It's been nice to have some alone time during the day, and just catch up on rest. Now that it's after Christmas, it feels like my time here has sped up. It was easy to think of all the things I still want to do while I'm in France and think "oh I have plenty of time, Christmas isn't even here yet." But now that I've actually created a list (in Microsoft Excel...because I'm a nerd), it's like "oh crap...I need to start scheduling these things out to make sure I can fit them all in." Most of them I'm going to want to do in warmer months anyway, so that's not a huge stretch of time to fit them all in. I need to get the indoorsy things out of the way during these cold months. I do have more time during the weeks now though, so hopefully I will start checking things off left and right. I started researching something else I'm really excited about that I hope to do in the next few months, but I'm going to keep that a secret for the time being. But it would be so much fun if I can do it.

Well, this was a long one, and I appreciate you taking the time to catch up on my adventures!

Bonne année!