Greece is the Word

Early on in our time as roommates, Kailyn and I decided that we’d go on Spring Break together (thank goodness we became such good friends!) – she proposed going to Athens, Rome, and Venice, which sounded wonderful to me. One of the great things about Europe is that traveling around the continent can be much cheaper than it is traveling around the States; flying to a different country was way cheaper than the hour and a quarter flight I take from Orange to Oakland for Thanksgiving! The only downside is that the flights are so cheap because some of the “luxuries” are gone – for example, you can only bring one fairly small bag for free. And when they say one bag, they mean *one* bag, including purses and the like. So leading up to our Spring Break, we each had the mighty challenge of squeezing a bit over a week of clothes plus travel-size toiletry bottles plus our purses plus shoes into our little duffel bags.

After much research and strategizing and some tight clothes rolling, we were somehow able to fit everything in, and we set out before the sun on Saturday to walk 20 or 25 minutes to attempt to catch a bus to the Nice airport to catch a flight to Rome, where we would then catch a flight to Athens.

We had checked online and found out that we could catch the bus right outside of the train station, but when we arrived and waited and no bus showed up, we began to suspect that maybe we were wrong. Nothing like a nice and stressful start to Spring Break!

A fellow also waiting outside the train station saw us wandering around and looking confused, and he approached us asking if there was anything he could help us with. We Franglished out that we were looking for a certain bus stop, which he informed us was in fact back by city hall. We thanked him and dashed off in the direction of city hall before realizing after a block or two that there was no way we would make the probably 10 or 15 minute walk in time.

So we headed back to the train station, figuring that the train was our best option at this point and trying not to go into panic mode. Since the teller area where you buy tickets wasn’t open yet (the sun wasn’t even up by this point), we had to try these automated ticket machines that had never worked for us before. My credit card had a chip in it that let it work in Europe, but for some reason those machines never recognized it. And this time was no exception! We also had the option of paying in cash, and we had enough paper cash to pay for it, but the machine only accepted coins.

Time to try really hard not to panic, part two!

We found a store just beginning to open in the train station and asked in a very roundabout way if we could have our 10 euros in coins – believe it or not, no one taught us the verb “to make change”! Fortunately, the cashier understood what we meant, but unfortunately, as we were the first people to step foot in that shop that morning, he didn’t have any coins. But he did split our 10s into 5s, which did nothing but was very nice of him!

Time to not dissolve in a pool of panic, part three!

At that point, we figured that given the time restraint and the lack of other available options, our only option was to take a taxi to the airport. There were a bunch of taxis lined up outside of the train station, but neither of us had just picked up a taxi like that before, much less in a foreign country. So we kind of huddled together and whispered, trying to figure out if we could just approach one and ask for a ride, and we finally bit the bullet and I knocked on the door of the cab at the front of the line. He and I were able to communicate pretty well with our joint Franglish, and we worked out that he was available to take us to the Nice airport. A bit (or rather, a lot) more expensive than we had been planning on, but at that point it was really the last choice and was definitely the lesser evil when compared to missing our flights and hostel reservations and the like.

Thank goodness after that stressful morning, the ride to and getting through the airport and onto our flight was super smooth! We flew to Rome first, where we had a layover before catching a flight to Athens. I was actually able to sleep on the flight to Rome! That almost never happens, so it was a very pleasant and welcome surprise – I can only figure that I have waking up so early and having to deal with a mini transportation crisis to thank for it. Maybe I should try to go through both of those situations every morning I fly somewhere. But I was awakened by the jolt of the landing and the applause of the other passengers, which was a very disorienting and unsettling thing to wake up to – first off, where the heck was I, and secondly, why was everyone clapping? Had the pilot performed some special maneuver to keep us from a fiery collision with the ground? What had I missed? Kailyn had fallen asleep too, so we were both in the dark, but seeing as how people clapped every time we landed with Easy Jet, I don’t think anything extraordinary had happened. Just a weird cheap discount flight tradition, maybe.

Another thing that surprised us about Easy Jet was the variety of people using it. Since the flights are so cheap and the baggage is so restricted, we assumed that it would primarily be for traveling college students looking for a deal, like ourselves. And while there was definitely a good portion of passengers that fit our demographic, there were also large numbers of businessmen and families and the like. I guess you don’t have to be 20 and on a budget to appreciate a bargain!

So we were back in Italy for the first time since we had left Florence back in February! Land of pasta and pizza and gelato and risotto and everything delicious. Of course, we were just in the airport for a layover, but still.

When we had bought our tickets online months prior, a 3 or 4 hour layover didn’t seem so bad. We would have to find our gate and grab food and locate an atm and all sorts of stuff, so it seemed like the time would pass quickly. We managed to do all of this pretty darn efficiently (save for finding the atm, but a kind man in the Ferrari merchandise store helped us out), though, which left lots of time to sit around and chat and read and wonder if we were going to have to stay in that airport for all of eternity. I also had an embarrassing number of mini panic attacks because I kept thinking that I had lost my purse, forgetting that I had had to put it in my duffel per EasyJet restrictions.

But at long last, we were on the plane bound for Athens! This was, if I recall correctly, a shorter trip (looking back, all of the flights kind of meld together!), which I was very thankful for – what with the taxi and the previous flight and knowing that we would have a train/subway ride from the airport to the heart of the city when we landed, I was very done with transportation for the day.

Once we landed, Kailyn and I made our way out of the airport and followed signs (thankfully all of the Greek writing had English translations underneath! Even the alphabet is different, so it’s extra impossible to figure out!) until we found a public transportation port. Probably the first thing that struck me as we found our way there and stepped outside into the Greek air for the first time was how lush and green and cold it was! Definitely a very different feeling and vibe than the south of France, which I found exciting.

Our next task after finding the public transportation hub was to study every map we could find and try to figure out what the correct line was to get to the stop nearest our hostel. Kailyn had written out directions and the line names when we last had wifi, and we were eventually able to make enough sense of the train maps to figure out that we needed the blue line.

The ride into the city was nice and smooth – we met an English couple and a Chinese woman and learned that pretty much nobody in our train car spoke Greek, which was reassuring! It was also fascinating to watch the countryside go by before we made it into the city. Cannes was definitely more blue (sea) and grey (streets) than green (grass), which I was realizing that I missed a lot, coming from a rural mountain town!

Green! Rocks! Trees!
Green! Rocks! Trees!

Even getting off at the right stop and finding our way to our hostel were relatively simple, which, given our track record with getting lost, was a pleasant surprise! We also learned that apparently the Greeks are really into posters, as many of the buildings that we walked by were absolutely plastered with them. It was starting to get dark and we were desperate to get to our hostel, so I don’t remember what all of them were for, but I have the impression that a lot of them were for various events or concerts or the like.

The hostel we stayed at, the City Circus, was a great first hostel experience! It had good security, seemed to be in a good area, and had an artsy and eclectic feel to it that I really responded to. We were in a room with two other girls (they only spoke Spanish, but we all got along fine), and our room even had its own bathroom, which was a huge plus.

When we first checked in, our roommates were out, so we got to settle in and lock our stuff up and prepare to head out into town to try to find dinner. I also looked up and practiced saying the Greek word for “vegetarian” (χορτοφάγος, pronounced like “chortofágos”), which I’m sure I constantly butchered!

We ended up heading out at around 8, which, we had learned through our last-minute research, was when early Greek dinners started. Our game plan was basically to wander around and see what struck us, and we didn’t make it very far before a waiter out front of a restaurant showed us a menu all in Greek and told us that someone inside could translate it for us. Tired and hungry, we agreed and were ushered inside. Sure enough, it was still early for dinner, as evidenced by our being the sole customers, but another waiter was able to understand that I didn’t eat meat and gave me some lovely suggestions. I started off ordering a Greek salad and some fries, but then I tried to change from the salad to a sandwich that he suggested. However, I ended up getting all 3 items! I can’t complain, though, because I was starving and they were delicious and Kailyn and I split the fries while she waited for what felt like forever for her chicken. The fries were beautifully salted and herbed and were heaven – the French do not believe in salt. In fact, my first French teacher there would warn the class surprisingly often about the dangers of salting our food. The Greek salad was also delicious – all of the ingredients were much larger and more chunk-like than the American versions I frequently order, but when it comes to tomatoes and feta cheese and the like, that is definitely not a bad thing! The sandwich thing was probably the greatest surprise, since I hadn’t totally followed what the waiter said would be in it apart from no meat. It was more of a savory tart/pie/pastry thing, with spinach and some sort of cheese wrapped around in a delightfully flaky dough.

My mouth is watering. Man, do I miss this food! Can I please casually hop on a flight back to Greece just for dinner?

Kailyn was equally satisfied with her chicken when it finally arrived, and we left a couple of hours later feeling fat and happy. This feeling increased when we realized that our hostel was across the street from the cutest little pastry shop, which of course we had to check out. I have no idea what we got, apart from that it was sweet and appley and amazing.

Stole Kailyn's picture - delicious apple pastry!
Stole Kailyn’s picture – delicious apple pastry!

We were so exhausted after our travel day that after some quick planning for the next morning, we were out like lights and awoke the next day ready and excited to go and explore and actually see the city in the daylight!

That was our only full day in Athens, so we wanted to make sure that we fit in as much as we could. We started off trying to find the Parthenon (I still always confuse that with the Pantheon in Rome, which we visited just a couple days later – stay tuned!) and passed through a street market with some really gorgeous jewelry and scarves and antiques, which of course we had to stop and browse through. There was one stand near the end of the market that had some sort of – thing – in a little Tupperware container rolling around with a ball, and each time we passed by we could never tell if it was a living creature or if it was what the man was selling or if it was just some weird product. Whatever it was, it was creepy enough that we didn’t want to get a closer look to figure it out! Seeing as how it was constantly moving and doing the same thing every time we saw it, I’m inclined to believe that it wasn’t real, but who really knows?

The closer we got to the Parthenon, the more we noticed little remnants of ruins alongside the pathway, which definitely helped to set the tone! In a strange way, it also brought me back to Florence, where I spent a good deal of time pondering over why such important pieces of art and history are just left out in the open with no visible protection.

Just hanging out, in the open, nothing around it
Just hanging out, in the open, nothing around it

We were able to get tickets for free with our student IDs, and we then followed several tour groups up a long and windy path that looked down on an ancient amphitheater and more ruins and the like. It seemed like most of the tourists there were in English speaking groups, so we were able to kind of float from group to group, listening in on parts of the tours for a few minutes. Who needs to pay for a guide when you can semi-hijack one? Our favorite guide was a jolly older man with the longest and fullest beard you’ve seen. Greek Santa?

We eventually came to a zig-zaggy ramp that let you walk through some of the ruins, which then led to the actual Parthenon itself. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it was about here that I realized that the part of Greece we were in was basically Cat Central! There were a bunch of cats (and a dog or two) sitting along the ramp watching the visitors go by, and there were even more running around and through all of the ruins. Part of me wanted to take all of the stray cats (and dogs) home, but they all seemed to be well-fed and healthy and enjoying their lives. Plus they have an ancient historical landmark as their playground! And I was pretty sure I couldn’t fit them all in my little duffel bag, per EasyJet’s requirements. I wanted to pet them all, but figured that it would be more prudent to kind of keep my distance. My will was truly tested when one particularly friendly cat hopped on a rock near me and started talking to me, but I somehow managed to resist!

(I may have been missing my cats back at home a little bit!)

Amphitheater with the city in the background
Amphitheater with the city in the background
Me with the amphitheater with the city in the background
Me with the amphitheater with the city in the background
Steps to the Parthenon, feat. a sleeping dog
Steps to the Parthenon, feat. a sleeping dog
Somehow I had never really realized that columns are put up in little sections!
Somehow I had never really realized that columns are put up in little sections!
The ruins you walk through to get to the little area with the Parthenon
The ruins you walk through to get to the little area with the Parthenon
This one reminded me of my cat Puppy!
This one reminded me of my cat Puppy!
Just hanging out on some ruins. No big deal.
Just hanging out on some ruins. No big deal.
In my Happy Place
In my Happy Place

As for the Parthenon itself and the other significant ruins surrounding it (obviously less important than the cats…), they were truly mind-boggling. Just feeling surrounded by so much history – and really ancient, historical history, no less – was incredibly humbling. If there’s one thing I learned during my travels, it’s that nothing puts everything into perspective like being able to experience other cultures and to not only learn about but see and feel their pasts, imagining people hundreds and thousands of years ago going about their daily lives and seeing those ruins when they were in their prime, right where you’re standing. Also to bring your own peanut butter to Europe, but that’s a bit less existential, I suppose.

Part of the Parthenon was covered in scaffolding, which some signs said was for restoration efforts – more specifically, to essentially reverse some previous restoration efforts that are now known to be potentially harmful. A for effort!

Under construction
Under construction
Pretty sure we semi-joined that tour for a bit!
Pretty sure we semi-joined that tour for a bit!
History is everywhere!
History is everywhere!
Meanwhile, nearby....
We were being watched!

There was also a little area where historians believe there used to be a highly meaningful olive tree (I wish I could remember the story behind it!), so there’s presently an olive tree planted there again out of honor for the past significance, which I thought was very thoughtful and respectful detail.

VIOT (Very Important Olive Tree)
VIOT (Very Important Olive Tree)

We also found a water fountain, which caused us to realize that there are no drinking fountains in France, which in turn led to our freaking out and taking a bunch of pictures of it.

Oh the excitement!
Oh the excitement!

When we followed a group of early elementary school students on a field trip (can you imagine! When I was that age our big field trip was touring a grocery store!) back down from the Parthenon towards the ticket area, we saw a giant sign advertising frozen lemonade, which (déjà vu!) caused us to realize that lemonade does not exist in France, either – the closest thing I ever ended up finding was limonade, which is more a lemony soda sort of deal. So of course we had to make a little stop there, and our little treats went perfectly with sitting and people and cat watching for a while.

We had gotten an early start that morning (surprisingly early, for us!), so it was still a little early for lunch, but we decided to set off in search of a place to eat, figuring that it might take us a while. We made our way back down the hill the Parthenon area was on, and found a restaurant right at the end of the little market we had passed through earlier – the man out front by the menu (this is a huge thing in Europe!) assured us that there were vegetarian options and showed us that part of the menu was in English, so we were sold. Again, I’m not entirely sure what the sandwich thing I got was called, but it was fantastic and only about a euro and a half! (That was another nice thing about Greece – it was far cheaper than I had been expecting it to be! Though in hindsight this was probably a sad hint towards their current troubles.) It pretty much consisted of tzatziki (a yogurty/olive oily sauce) and tomatoes and onion and lettuce and French fries wrapped up in pita bread, and I’m pretty sure I could live off of those. Especially at that price!

Next stop was finding the Acropolis; we carefully examined our map and found our way to the correct street, but spent another couple minutes looking around trying to figure out how to get to the actual site before realizing that we were standing right in front of the entrance (in our defense, there was a really cute dog napping by the gate, which distracted us!). Again, thanks to our lovely student IDs, entrance was free!

As for the Acropolis itself, again, probably my biggest reactions were awe and wonder and sort of a feeling of being transported back in time. These are places that you read about and see pictures of in your history textbooks throughout school, but of course nothing comes close to giving you an appreciation for something like seeing it in person. If only everybody got to take field trips to see such significant places! I’m very very lucky.

First peek!
First peek!
View of the Parthenon up on the hill from the Acropolis
View of the Parthenon up on the hill from the Acropolis
Acropolis!
Acropolis!
Getting artsy
Getting artsy

Surrounding the Acropolis were – what else? – more ruins! We got to wander around the area, which was gorgeously green and lush and full of flowers and columns and the like. Just being out in so much nature and surrounded by so much history is a feeling that I will never forget. We also came across a little museum that housed a bunch of headless statues out in the front (under a roof, but still exposed to elements! Sort of like that statue plaza in Florence) and a bunch of statue heads and pots and artifacts inside. I know that I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but the sheer age and *history* of everything never failed to astound me.

Nature!
Nature!
Remnants!
Remnants!
Museum!
Museum!
No heads!
No heads!
Movement!
Movement!
Voldemort!
Voldemort!
Pots!
Pottery!

Having then already crossed off everything that we had been planning on doing that day, we decided to sort of wander around and try to get a better feel for the town itself. We found our way to another little marketplace and eventually into a more crowded and less touristy feeling area, which didn’t feel unsafe per se but wasn’t as cozy or friendly feeling, and since neither of us spoke a word of Greek (save for my pathetic attempts at saying the word for “vegetarian”), we decided that it would behoove us to stay in the more touristy areas.

So we spent the rest of our afternoon wandering around some touristy shopping streets and going into various souvenir stores. The beautiful thing about souvenir stores, especially the ones we visited over Spring Break, is that you never know quite what you’ll find or how the vendors will be representing their city (or, perhaps more accurately, how they think visitors will be perceiving their city). Athens featured a lot of owls (for Athena) and togas/Greek goddess wear. I passed those by but fell in love with a scarf that was only 5 euros and found a postcard that featured some of the cats of Greece, so I was a very happy camper!

We also stopped at a little café to continue our quest to have hot chocolate in every city we went to, only to find out that they were out of hot chocolate! So instead we ordered some baklava and I had a cappuccino and life was good.

Yay for pre-captioned photos!
Yay for pre-captioned photos!
A table with a view
A table with a view

We had wandered quite a bit by that point, so we started trying to retrace our steps after that. We may have gotten slightly turned around once or twice, but finding our way back to the restaurant at which we had lunch was surprisingly smooth! Though we got caught in the middle of yet another field trip (high schoolers this time) and had to squeeze our way through throngs of teenagers waiting around for their teacher.

It was around dinner time at that point (well, for us – still kind of early by Greek standards!), so we started wandering around by the Acropolis entrance to search for nourishment. We were approached by a guy who had a menu in one hand and was twirling a bottle opener around his finger on the other, and he too assured us that there were vegetarian options and offered us free Greek drinks at the end of our meal. We told him that we weren’t really drinkers, and he offered us a discount instead, so of course we accepted!

The guy with the bottle opener looked out for us that night – I ordered stuffed peppers for dinner, and he came over to let me know that they could split that in half with one of the other options, stuffed tomatoes, so that I’d get one of each, which again I accepted. And I am glad that I did – that ended up being one of the best meals that I had while abroad – heck, maybe ever. It was very simple but was absolutely delectable. Greek food might just be the greatest thing ever invented!

❤ ❤ ❤

Another highlight of that meal was that there was this kitten that kept coming into the restaurant and sniffing around the tables and chasing moths! It took all of my willpower not to scoop her up and take her with me back to the hostel. So cute!

<3 <3 <3
❤ ❤ ❤

At last our check came with the discount, but with that came two shots of some sort of really strong smelling traditional Greek liquor! Kailyn and I just sort of looked at each other. Neither of us are exactly big drinkers, and we didn’t exactly want to be tipsily navigating the streets of a city we had only spent a day in, especially at night, and especially when the only thing we could kind of communicate in the native language was that one of us didn’t eat meat (and that, I’m sure, would have gone out the window with that shot!). We spent probably five minutes or so whispering at each other, trying to figure out what to do. The people at the restaurant had been so kind to us – would it be rude to just leave the shots? But we couldn’t exactly drink them! I (mostly jokingly) suggested that Kailyn have both, so that at least one of us would still have our wits and could find the way back to the hostel, but she wasn’t a fan of that idea. At long last, Kailyn saw the waiter looking at us confusedly, and evidently so did the bottle-opener-swinger fellow, who went over to the waiter and said something while looking at our table, which Kailyn interpreted as him telling the waiter that we didn’t drink. With that settled (we assume), we figured it wouldn’t be a huge faux-pas to just leave then, so we thanked them both and headed out!

We were treated to an absolutely stunning view of the Acropolis all lit up as we made our way back to our hostel, where we packed up all of our stuff for checking out the next morning and promptly fell asleep!

This doesn't even begin to bring it justice
This photo doesn’t even begin to do it justice

We had an awkward amount of time the next morning before we had to leave for the airport – there wasn’t quite enough time to do something big, but it was also too long to just do nothing. So we ended up just picking up hot chocolate at a nearby café (maybe the best hot chocolate we had – seriously, you go, Greece!) and wandering around a bit more and found – surprise! – some more ruins! We also passed by a souvenir shop that seemed to specialize in (ahem) large phallic shaped keychains covered with the city name, which just prompted so many questions.

Last Greek ruins (for now)!
Last Greek ruins (for now)!

Perhaps the strangest part of that morning, though, was when my purse just snapped out of nowhere! Just a clean break at the bottom of one of the straps. I would almost think that somebody had gotten it with scissors if not for the fact that there was nobody within reach of us. Fortunately, the purse had a flap covering the zippered pocket, so I could sort of tie the strap and tuck it under the flap and still hold it like a normal bag (though it became a lot shorter and felt very 2000s!). Of course, this meant that opening the bag caused it to fall apart again and require more reconstruction, but it was a good temporary fix!

Extra early lunch was another one of those French fry sandwiches, and with that we picked up our bags from the hostel and hopped back on the subway to head back to the airport!

Athens is a truly gorgeous and historic city in a beautiful country that I would love to see more of one day. The people seem welcoming and friendly, and the scenery is breathtaking. Also, did I mention that I kind of liked the food there? Spending just one full day there was more of a teaser than anything, but I’ll be back someday! And as for that trip, we had Rome waiting for us next!

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That’s What Friends Are For

(Sorry for so much jumping around in the timeline! I unfortunately got super behind with blogging while in France and wanted to catch up on the most recent festival stuff while it was still fresh before going back to cover the rest of my time abroad. This entry takes place the week after we returned from our weekend in Paris – so late March, I believe!)

Last fall when I was back at Chapman, my good friend Tony Deng was trying to figure out what he wanted to do for Spring Break – he knew that he wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere he hadn’t been before, but was at a loss apart from that. We talked a bit about how great it would be if he could come visit me in Cannes, but it seemed way too complicated and crazy to actually happen.

Or not, apparently!

So arriving back from Paris was super exciting – Tony had landed in Cannes and we would get to catch up after not seeing each other for around 3 months!

After my class on Monday, I met Tony in town and took him to an ice cream stand along la Croisette to catch up on gossip and to find out how his trip was. It was so wonderful to see such a familiar and friendly face and to get to share the place I’d come to call home! Especially over crème brûlée ice cream! (Crème brûlée ice cream makes everything better. Highly recommended.)

Yay ice cream and yay friends! (Thanks to Tony for the picture)
Yay ice cream and yay friends! (Thanks to Tony for the picture)

Much of our time in Cannes wonderfully consisted of more of the same – chatting and eating (two big hobbies of ours back in Orange, too). One highlight was when Kailyn and I took him to a Chinese buffet for dinner and he was able to communicate better there using his fluent Chinese than we could using our French! The television near our table in the restaurant was playing a French game show that we were trying to figure out sans sound. At first it seemed sort of like Who Wants to be a Millionaire only with 7 or 8 contestants, but then somebody came out on stage and started singing, so we switched our guess to Millionare mixed with The Voice. Then a bunch of guys came out on stage and started dancing, and Tony went, “They’re going to start stripping.” Kailyn and I just kind of looked at him, but he seemed confident in his guess, and sure enough, just a couple seconds later their clothes were gone. So Millionaire/The Voice/Chippendales? Whatever was actually going on (we still have absolutely no idea!), it was a very entertaining way to pass the evening!

Another afternoon, Kailyn and I decided to take Tony to Mandelieu-la-Napoule, a small city just a half hour bus ride from Cannes.

Some backstory about Mandelieu: there’s a château there (Château de la Napoule) that Kailyn and I had set out to find maybe a month or so ago at that point. To start off with, we ended up wandering around Cannes for 2 hours because we thought we had to buy our bus tickets at the terminal, which happened to have just closed for lunch when we arrived (something that’s great for French employees and terribly frustrating for French customers, especially those who aren’t used to stores or bus stations entirely shutting down for long lunches). We were first in line when it finally reopened, only to learn that you buy your tickets when you actually get on the bus. But at least we got French fries during our wandering time!

Then, since we were visiting the château in Mandelieu, we figured that it only made sense to get off at the bus stop called Mandelieu. We ended up in (what else?) a residential area that we wandered around for a bit, searching for any sign of a castle. We were super confused because it seemed like the castle was what the town was most known for, but there was no sign of it anywhere. We were even questioning our sanity for a bit there, wondering if we had stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

We finally wandered around enough to find our way to another bus stop – the one that came right after the stop at which we got off. So apparently we were finally on the right path – whatever that path was! We studied the map on the bus stop for the longest time, trying to see if there was any hint as to where that blasted castle might be. We finally ended up with no better plan than to walk along and follow the bus stops. That way we’d get to see more of that bizarre little town, maybe stumble upon the castle, and we could call it quits and hop on the next bus if we ever got tired.

So we set off! And our two or three hour journey consisted of walking along the entire rest of the bus line and going through a heretofore unseen part of the French Riviera, including a French trailer park/campground, the most secluded and run-down tennis club you’ve ever seen, and a cemetery. We also walked around an entire mountain (which contained some sort of park/hiking trail), because at that point nothing could really phase us anymore. But the real kicker? Naturally, parts of this were in the rain, sans umbrellas.

So basically your normal casual jaunt.

When we finally reached the end of the bus line, we were back by the sea and, we realized, an actual town – that must have been the actual Mandelieu! And lo – just a little ways past that final bus stop, we could see a giant castle. Of course. It was 5 at that point, and we remembered from the little bit of research that we had done beforehand that the castle closed then, so we wandered around the town a little bit (even that was fairly unsuccessful as everything was closed!) before calling uncle and hopping on that bus back to Cannes.

So armed with this extra knowledge, Kailyn and I were eager to take Tony with us to finally conquer Mandelieu-La Napoule!

Kailyn and I set out one afternoon after our class and met Tony in town to grab lunch at the delicious petite crêperie (there were two crêpe places we would go to, and we didn’t know either of their names, so we always called them La Petite Crêperie and The Fancy Crêperie). We wanted to be prepared/energized just in case we needed to trek around another mountain – I got a crêpe with ratatouille (Kailyn and Tony got crêpes with some sort of meat – is it bad that I can never tell? The downside to being a lifelong vegetarian!) and we each got dessert crêpes with sugar and whipped cream, which is a surprisingly rare commodity in France. It prepared us well, and this bus ride was far smoother! Tony was able to nap for most of it, and Kailyn and I, basking in our recently attained wisdom, waited to get off until the last stop.

Tony and Kailyn became good friends too!
Kailyn and Tony became good friends too!
I'm going to be stealing a bunch of Tony's pictures for this blog post!
I’m going to be stealing a bunch of Tony’s pictures for this blog post!
Hey there good-lookin’

We knew that we were in the right part of town and could see the roof of the castle, which was already a huge improvement over our prior trip. The new challenge, then, consisted of figuring out how to get to the entrance to the castle. This time, though, it only took us a few wrong turns before we found our way!

There was a statue of a man hanging off of the castle. Casual.
There was a creepy statue of a man hanging off of the castle. Casual.

We chatted a bit with the woman selling entrance tickets, and it turned out that the actual castle itself was more of a museum highlighting the art made by the man who used to own the castle. You could only go in with a tour group, which would have involved waiting an hour or so. The other option was buying tickets just to see the garden, which she assured us was absolutely spectacular, so we decided to go with that one.

We caught a documentary in a little room just outside of the garden that discussed the man who owned the château – an eccentric millionaire from the early 1900s. He and his wife adorned the gardens with their art and they made their servants dress up in period costume with them, pretending that they and their pet peacocks were of another era.

So we wandered around the garden, which, as I’m sure that millionaire intended, was like walking around in a fantasy! Everything was so lush and green and perfectly landscaped, and that coupled with the art pieces hidden around and the fact that it was attached to a castle made it feel like a kind of bizarre Disney movie! So we just walked around taking pictures and chatting – Tony had an assignment for a photography class back at Chapman to take portraits, so he took the opportunity to make Kailyn and me model for him, as well.

Panorama by Tony
Panorama by Tony
Group shot (also by Tony)
Group shot (also by Tony)
A giant elephant statue made out of old car tires
A giant elephant statue made out of old car tires
Beautiful little fountain area
Beautiful little fountain area
An example of the millionaire's art lying around
An example of the millionaire’s art lying around
Fairy tale-esque door with "Once Upon A Time"
Fairy tale-esque door with “Once Upon A Time…”
Tony setting up for a shot
Tony setting up for a shot
I know this is a lot of pictures, but it was so pretty!
I know this is a lot of pictures, but it was so pretty!
A lot of the art had this symbol on it - a combination of an M and an H for the names of the millionaire and his wife (Henry and Marie)
A lot of the art had this symbol on it – a combination of an M and an H for the names of the millionaire and his wife (Henry and Marie)
A dog made out of old tires
A leaping dog made out of old tires
A normal day hanging out at a castle
Just your normal day hanging out at a castle
A portrait of the portrait taker!
A portrait of the portrait taker!
What would a castle on the French Riviera be if it wasn't right by the sea?
What would a castle on the French Riviera be if it wasn’t right by the sea?

After exploring all of the gardens, we went off in search of some sort of snack to tide us over until we made it back to Cannes. Not much was open (again), so we had to settle for giant ice cream sundaes!

I'm loving all the selfies Tony took!
I’m loving all the selfies Tony took!
Yessssss
Yessssss
One of Tony's portrait assignments - Kailyn and me at the bus stop
One of Tony’s portrait assignments – Kailyn and me at the bus stop

Our last full day together (before I left for Spring Break and Tony left for the US!), I decided to take Tony to the Musée de la Castre, the museum I had visited with Aude and other AIFSers earlier that year. It’s a really interesting museum, and the cherry on top is this tower that has an amazing view of the city and the sea. We hadn’t been able to go up during our previous visit due to some rain, so I was excited to get to share it for the first time with Tony.

Sure enough, it is a fantastic view – even worth climbing up tall and narrow stairs in an old tower! (Have I mentioned yet how difficult I found European stairs? I usually found that the stairs were too small for my not-exactly-tiny feet! I often had to go up or down them kinda sideways.) We also met a group of five or six frat bros from the States who must have been there on their Spring Break and who got us to take a bunch of pictures for them!

Thanks for taking our picture, too, Frat Bros!
Thanks for taking our picture, too, Frat Bros!
Looking out above Cannes
Looking out above Cannes
Not the worst view
Not the worst view

Our next stop for the day was catching the train to Monaco (or, as Tony kept pronouncing it, Mo-NAH-co – we think he was confusing it with Morocco)! We ended up deciding to head to an exotic garden there (Tony hadn’t seen any French exotic gardens yet!) and, thanks to Tony being able to use his beautiful phone while abroad, we didn’t get lost once! The garden was, as I came to learn was the French exotic norm, full of cacti and succulents, and it was a lot of fun following the zigzaggy path. When the view and the zigzags allowed, I could even point out the various parts of Monaco I had visited before.

Cactus portrait
Cactus portrait
Zigzagging our way down
Zigzagging our way down
Lots of little pathways to follow
Lots of little pathways to follow
Funny to think about how this is considered to be exotic in other parts of the world
Funny to think about how this is considered to be exotic in other parts of the world

Perhaps the most exciting part of this little excursion was something we found right by the garden’s exit – there was a little room with a bunch of vending machines, and one of them gave you freshly squeezed orange juice! Instead of rows of snacks, the machine was full of oranges, and when you put your coins in, two oranges would fall down and get sliced in half and squeezed, and the juice would end up in a little cup at the bottom, sort of like the coffee vending machines – only *way cooler*!

Luckily Tony remembered to take a picture, even amongst all the excitement!
Luckily Tony remembered to take a picture, even amongst all the excitement!

So of course we both got freshly squeezed orange juice (which was delicious!) and then headed out to walk by the Monte Carlo Casino and grabbed hot chocolate at the place I stopped at with Kailyn and a couple other girls my last time there, before heading back to Cannes.

Tony was pretty tired for the train ride back to Cannes
Tony was pretty tired for the train ride back to Cannes

We grabbed pizza for dinner near the train station when we got back before heading our separate ways. Saying goodbye was tough (when is it not?), but it was a wonderful week full of wonderful adventures with a wonderful friend!

A slight step up from our times hanging out and eating pizza back in Orange!
A slight step up from our times hanging out and eating pizza back in Orange!
Thanks for such a fun week, TDeng!
Thanks for such a fun week, TDeng!

Plus I had the mighty challenge/distraction of fitting a week’s worth of clothes and the like into one bag awaiting me when I returned to the dorm – our Spring Break was starting dark and super early the next morning!

“Oh, What’s This in My Shoe? Red Carpet Insole. Everywhere I Go, I’m Walking on Red Carpet.”

Once Kailyn and I were both free from interning at the market and volunteering with amfAR, we decided to try our hand at snagging tickets to some of the premieres at the Palais des Festivals! We checked the screening schedule, and the movies that would be premiering the next two nights were two that we were really interested in – The Little Prince and Macbeth.

Many of the companies who attend the film festival are given tickets to the premieres, but since they generally tend to be busy with meetings and various other screenings and what have you, they often are unable to use them. But since the theatres have to be full for premieres (how embarrassing would it be to have only a handful of people for a premiere?), they can get in trouble if their tickets go unused, so many of them take to giving away their tickets on the street.

I had asked both the people at The Exchange and Aude, one of the AIFS directors, for their advice on how to find tickets, and they all felt that it shouldn’t really be a problem – all you have to do is make a sign advertising what you’re looking for and go stand around in front of the palais in your premiere clothes, and eventually you will most likely be approached.

Aude recommended arriving at the palais about an hour and a half before the premiere, but since Kailyn and I weren’t sure if she was speaking more in French time (which is much much more relaxed than American time!), both nights we ended up arriving closer to 3 hours early just to be safe.

The film festival went through a bit of a controversy this year when they were super fussy about only accepting women wearing heels onto the red carpet. Apparently a group of older women were denied entry to the premiere of Carol because they were wearing flats (according to the news, some of them had medical conditions that would make wearing heels pretty unwise and unsafe), and the wife of the director of Amy was almost refused entry because of her footwear. Naturally, there was a load of backlash over this; at a press conference for Sicario, Emily Blunt discussed how disappointing this was given the current waves of equality, and director Denis Villeneuve said that he and Blunt’s co-stars, Josh Brolin and Benecio del Toro, would be wearing heels in solidarity when their film premiered (sadly, they weren’t – I kept a close eye out!). The whole matter of footwear is really kind of a shame, especially if a woman is appropriately dressed in black tie attire, and *especially* if a woman is unable to wear heels due to medical issues. And during a year that was kind of highlighting women in film, no less (La Tête Haute was the first film directed by a woman to open the festival since 1987, and a number of the films shown were very female-centric, from Carol to Mad Max)!

However, now did not seem like the time to rock the boat in this regard when we were going to be essentially begging for tickets (I’ll have to make a political statement with my footwear when I’m actually invited to the Cannes Film Festival sometime in the near future! 🙂 ). So I dug out my trusty and actually kinda comfortable pair of heels that I ran around Manhattan in for a week in high school, and Kailyn went into town to buy a pair that was on sale but unfortunately turned out to be increasingly tight and uncomfortable as the night went on.

And so both nights we set off, armed with our dresses, our teetery sticks of death attached to our shoes, and a sign Kailyn made with which we would attempt to claim our fortune!

The first night we walked all the way down to the palais, which was a feat in and of itself – the route into town from the collège is pretty hilly, there are lots of cobblestones and grates and uneven surfaces to watch out for, and my natural pace in heels is a good bit faster than Kailyn’s, so it was difficult for either of us to adjust our speeds without facing balance/comfort issues. The second night we wised up and took the bus into town, but this wasn’t quite the perfect solution either – we got honked at a couple times while we were waiting, and there were no open seats on the bus so we had to stand, desperately holding onto the poles on the seats to keep from toppling over as the bus went around every turn.

Guess which side of the heels debate I’m on?

But anywho, once we arrived in front of the palais, we started wandering around holding Kailyn’s sign, trying to find a place to plant ourselves that seemed to be getting a lot of foot traffic by people with festival access badges who might have had extra tickets. We ended up changing positions a few times each night, but funnily enough it was in pretty much the same location both nights that we were offered tickets!

The whole process of begging for tickets is quite an interesting one, and one that made me feel strangely both really uncomfortable and really competitive. Since we were there pretty early both nights, we started off with only a few other people milling around with signs, but as the premieres grew closer, more and more people showed up with the exact same intent.

It turns out that you get to meet a lot of people while you’re standing around smiling and trying to look sweet and presentable and approachable and eager but not overly eager! There were, of course, a couple of scammers who approached us trying to sell us “tickets” (which are entirely possible to get for free, and they only had pictures of the tickets they would give you later!), but it’s pretty easy to get rid of the scammers, and pretty much everyone else who approached us was nice. And it’s a great opportunity to practice my French! Several times each night a few French people came up to us and asked what movie we were hoping to see and when and where it was playing and who was in it and what nationality the director was and the like, and I was actually able to hold a pretty steady conversation with most of these people! When we were trying to get tickets for Macbeth, one woman approached us and told us in French not to bother because it’s horrible, and another fellow with a sign told us that we looked like we’d stepped straight out of a Shakespearean play and wished us luck (the both of us do look pretty Scottish, I guess!). There were also some people who came up to us to ask whether we were looking for tickets or trying to give some away, which was an interesting approach that I kind of doubt ended up working for them.

Some strategies we (think we) figured out for being sneakily handed premiere tickets:

  1. Be dressed up – once you get the tickets, you pretty much have to go straight in for the premiere, so you won’t have time to change, and people won’t give tickets to someone who’s just going to get turned away.
  2. Don’t bring your dog – we saw one woman holding her dog as a tactic to get tickets! She made a little sign for him that was asking how you could say no to that little face, which is a very valid question. At first glance this seems like a brilliant strategy, because who doesn’t want to meet a cute dog! But, tying in with strategy #1, what are you going to do with your dog if/when you get the tickets? Dogs are allowed everywhere in France, but I think they’re frowned upon in the palais.
  3. Don’t keep moving – people with tickets aren’t going to chase down a moving target. Once you find a place that suits your liking, plant there for a while and give people a chance to approach you.
  4. Pick your spot wisely – you want to stay near the crowd, but not be enveloped in it. Staying a little bit outside of the throngs of people is where we got our tickets both nights, I think because people giving away tickets know that this is where most people will be (since it’s close to where the lines to enter the theatre start), but they understandably don’t want to go through the desperate masses. You also want to be sort of near the entrance since you won’t want to have to fight your way through the masses either!
  5. Keep waiting – we got there far earlier than we needed to and were beginning to get frustrated about waiting for so long for seemingly nothing. But more and more people come out to give away their tickets the closer the premiere time is. The first night, we weren’t offered tickets until just a few minutes before the carpet was set to close for the cast to arrive!
  6. Stay kind of low-key – when you are given tickets, you will be approached quickly and out of nowhere and quietly so as not to draw attention to the giver, who will be swarmed if a big deal is made out of them having tickets. Be sure to thank the person, but don’t scream or jump up and down or whatever else you’re internally doing!
  7. Make your sign creative – this is more of a theory, but if I were giving away tickets, I would look for somebody who obviously put some effort into their sign and didn’t just scribble it into a notebook or onto a torn sheet of paper a minute before they left (and there are plenty of those wandering around!). Luckily for me, Kailyn is a talented artist and was able to make calligraphy-esque signs – my artistic talent is limited to stick figures and clouds, and while I’ve received some compliments on my handwriting, it can just as often be illegible to people who aren’t me!

Our first night, for The Little Prince, we were given Balcony tickets, so we were sort of in the stand-by line (from what I gathered, we waited in line, and as long as they had more balcony seats, they let in more people in the balcony line). We were ushered up the side of the red carpet, behind a line of security guards, and were shown to two seats, one behind the other, at the very far left of the theatre.

I read Le Petit Prince in my French 3 class in high school, and it’s probably one of the most meaningful books I read in my 4 years there. To start with, there was the obvious thrill of being able to read a book in a foreign language! But beyond that, the messages about the importance of imagination and childhood and friendship really moved me. So that my first film premiere was for an adaptation of this book, and that it was at the Cannes Film Festival, no less, made for a very special experience!

The Little Prince was such a sweet movie! The original story has an added framework of a little girl whose mother controls every aspect of her life so that she will become the perfect adult – until she meets her next door neighbor, an aviator who teaches her the importance of embracing and holding onto one’s childhood. He also tells her the story of the Little Prince, and the traditional CGI animation of the girl’s story is replaced with truly gorgeous stop motion animation during the Little Prince’s story. I was a little surprised by some of the extra liberties they took after they finished telling the Little Prince’s tale, but in total it was very moving. The audience loved it and the movie received a standing ovation!

Success!
Success!
Thank you, sign and mysterious person who came out of nowhere!
Thank you, sign and mysterious person who came out of nowhere!

The next night, for Macbeth, we were given Corbeille tickets – we had no idea what this meant until we showed the security guard our tickets and he ushered us to a line that led straight to the beginning of the red carpet! Sure enough, after a minute we were making our way up the red carpet, trying to take each others’ pictures as quickly as possible before getting shooed along up the stairs. It was a very fast but very cool experience! It was so unexpected and so exciting that it was kind of difficult to take everything in, from the walls of paparazzi surrounding the carpet to just relishing following the path of all of the incredible directors and actors who climbed those exact stairs.

20150523_180233
Sur le tapis rouge
Stereotypical shoe shot
Stereotypical shoe shot
Monter l'escalier
Monter l’escalier
Kailyn et moi
Kailyn et moi

Our seats were sort of in the balcony again, but we were pretty much exactly in the center of the theatre, which made it much better! The actual film itself was a more frustrating experience, however. I could tell that it was a really really great movie – the cinematography was stunning, the score was dramatic, and the performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were fantastic and occasionally chill-inducing (I predict an Oscar nomination for at least Cotillard!). However, having not read the play yet, I wasn’t as familiar with the story as I wish I was, and following along with the spoken Shakespearean English was made more difficult because I kept getting distracted by trying to read the French subtitles along the bottom of the screen. I could tell how strong the movie was, which made not being able to entirely follow along with the story even more aggravating. Needless to say, Macbeth is now higher up on my To Read list, and I definitely want to see the movie again when it comes out!

Watching the red carpet from inside - Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender!
Watching the red carpet from inside the theatre – Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender!
Mon billet
Mon billet
Nous voudrions deux billets, s'il vous plaît!
Nous voudrions deux billets, s’il vous plaît!

I feel so fortunate to not only have been able to work at the festival, but to have experienced the more cinematic side of it, too. As a film student, I feel as though I was able to have the best of both worlds in this regard. The whole thing feels very surreal, especially now that I’m back in the States! But to have been able to experience an event that so embraces and celebrates film, an event that I studied and dreamed about in high school, was so motivational and inspiring. Hopefully it’s just a hint of what’s to come!

(Thanks to the always fabulous Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec for saving me from having to come up with an original title!)

In a Galaxy amfAR, Far Away

The day after my last day with The Exchange is the amfAR Cinema Against AIDS Gala at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in nearby Antibes, and the AIFS students have the opportunity to help out with the gala!

As I was walking back from lunch at the beach with Brian, the CEO of The Exchange, on my last day, I mentioned to him that I’d get to work at the gala, and his eyes got big and he told me about how anybody who’s anybody is there, and it’s pretty much *the* party of the western world. I am not exactly a party person, but the prospect of being able to see the venue and the attendees of such a well-known and important event made me super excited!

Not to mention the fact that amfAR does really significant work in the fight against AIDS and in raising awareness, and I was thrilled to be able to participate in such a huge fundraiser for such a wonderful organization.

In lieu of having an internship directly related to the film festival, my roommate Kailyn and a few other AIFS students at the collège worked with amfAR the week leading up to the gala to help with compiling and delivering invitations and the like.

For the day of the event, we were given a choice of two buses to catch heading to the Hôtel du Cap – one in the morning, which would allow people to help set up a bit for the gala, and one in the afternoon, which would bring people just in time to do the main bit of volunteering, standing along the carpet acting as a greeter.

Since I didn’t have my internship going on anymore, I decided to go ahead and sign up for the first slot, joining a group of fellow AIFSers who, I soon realized, had all gone to the hôtel the day before, too, to help set up and carry things. They already knew some of what was going on and some of the people there, so I felt a bit like an imposter or a double agent or something!

We all meet up at the reception area of the collège to walk to the bus stop together, where Sandrine, the AIFS resident director, said a bus would be waiting for us. As we walk up from the school, one guy who had apparently (presumably) been appointed as a team captain of some sort starts calling roll even though there are only maybe 8 of us and he had seen and even talked to all of us at reception.

Then when we arrive at the bus stop and see that there’s no bus there, he literally starts pacing around and thinking aloud to himself about how maybe he should call Sandrine to make sure that she remembered to order a bus. He takes the whole thing very seriously. Very very seriously. Even though it seems pretty obvious to me that the bus has simply gotten caught in traffic – it’s prime commute time, and the roads in and around Cannes are even more hectic than usual with the festival. But he finally delegates another girl to run back down to reception to see if they can contact Sandrine to ask for advice, and I just stand there thinking about how I wish I had had some coffee and hoping that this guy will calm down a bit by the time we arrive.

Sure enough, Sandrine had indeed called the bus, and when it pulls up a touch later, the driver apologizes to all of us because the traffic had been pretty bad.

We arrive at the Hôtel du Cap maybe 45 minutes later, and after picking up wristbands and lunch and dinner tickets, we’re shown to two private bungalows (one for the guys – or, at the moment, guy – and one for the girls) where we can leave our stuff and later change into our black dresses, the required greeter uniform. Yup – this is the kind of hotel that has private bungalows with ridiculously gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. They’re not huge, but they have comfortable chairs and a mirror and the most stunning views. It wouldn’t surprise me if they have more ornate ones and we helpers got the “common” private bungalows! The Hôtel du Cap is crazy beautiful and crazy expensive – pretty much all of the celebrities there for the festival or gala that weren’t staying in Cannes were staying there!

So we girls drop off our bags and black dresses at our private bungalow and meet up with our fearless leader at his private guy bungalow and set off to find the guy they had been working with yesterday. We find the main behind the scenes tent full of lots of equipment and busy people, and somebody tells us that they’ll find him and send him our way, so we sit and wait.

And wait.

And wait a bit more.

Until finally somebody shows up – only it’s not the guy they had been working with but someone who has the same name! But he finds somebody who can give us a job, and we are brought to the gala tent.

The tent is gigantic – there are, I believe, 100 tables, a huge stage, a catwalk going down the middle of the room, and the walls are covered with photographs of different models, many of whom are stark naked. It’s pretty amazing just getting to take it all in, though I have to keep reminding myself not to lean against the walls of the tent!

We’re shown to some tables in the back corner of the tent and are given boxes filled with folded napkins. Two people become designated ribbon cutters, and they pass the cut ribbons and some napkins down to us so we can fold the ribbon around/in the napkins. All 1000 of them!

Wrapping ribbon around napkins shouldn’t be that hard, really – but we are struggling! I’m glad that it’s not just me and my clumsy tendency to accidentally mangle crafty/handmade things, as is often the case. One girl seems really excited, though, to be learning something that she can add to her wedding Pinterest board.

While we’re folding napkins, we get to listen to some of the bands doing their sound checks for their performances that night. We get to hear Mary J. Blige’s band for the majority of our time, and even get to hear Mary come out to sing a song or two and make some suggestions! When we finally finish the napkins and take to placing them on all the tables, Charli XCX’s band comes out and starts playing along to a recording of her singing (so we’re not sure if she ended up lip synching that night, or if she just wasn’t there yet for the sound check?). Imagine Dragons also played that night, but unfortunately we aren’t there to hear their sound check!

By this point Kailyn and the other people who had been volunteering with amfAR all week are in the tent too (they had left the collège even earlier than we did and had been running around the hotel all morning!), and we help them with numbering the tables and laying out auction booklets on each of the seats before retiring for a lunch break. I have to eat a lot of salad – yay for every main dish having fish in it! – and we return to our bungalows to change into our black dresses (or suit, in the guy’s case).

Then it’s back up to the main behind the scenes tent to wait for the bus with the rest of the already-black-dressified AIFS people to arrive so we can get our placement around the white carpet that the guests will walk down on their way to the gala tent. When we are all reunited once again, we are broken up into groups and pile into golf carts (at least I am not the only one to bump my head climbing into ours!) and are taken up to the actual hotel area.

Some people are given spots inside the lobby or on the stairs leading out from the lobby, but the majority of us are placed going down the carpet. I’m towards the end, by the food and champagne, so I get to watch the waiters and waitresses being placed and taught how to offer food.

We are shown how to properly stand – right foot slightly forward and out, hands behind our back, shoulders back, smile! – and are left in our positions to wait while the plastic covering the carpet is peeled off and employees run around everywhere making sure everything is perfect.

I’m not entirely sure why we get placed so early – we stand around with nothing to do and no one to greet for what must be an hour and a half. We can’t even leave – one girl asks if she can go to the bathroom, and she is told that she has to stay in her place despite there being no reason for us to currently be standing there.

On the plus side, I do get smiled at by a ginger photographer as he walks by on the other side of the carpet. Gingers unite!

Finally people start to trickle in! We have a purpose! I adopt the pose and try to look as pleasant as possible at people as they walk on by. Since I’m towards the end, I get to watch people as they come and try to figure out if it’s someone that I recognize. For the first main bit, I can’t place anybody – the rich but not particularly famous crowd. I guess it’s not fashionably late enough for the big celebrities to arrive!

But as more time goes by, the more people I recognize:

Eva Longoria and a group of models that I don’t really recognize pose for a bunch of photos right in front of me and even sing some Spice Girls songs. When I look up amfAR stuff later, I realize that I definitely recognize the models’ names, mostly because they all seem to be part of Taylor Swift’s posse now that she’s all about having famous girl friends rather than famous boyfriends.

Jake Gyllenhaal and his mom make their way down the carpet mostly sticking to themselves; at one point he ends up maybe 5 feet away from me and we definitely make eye contact!

Dita Von Teese goes teetering by in impossibly high heels – how she manages to stay upright, I have no idea, but more power to her!

Adrien Brody and his girlfriend are stopped by a bunch of other attendees to take pictures with them, and though they look like they want to make their way off of the carpet and into the event, they stop and take every picture.

One of the Jenner girls arrives – I’m not entirely sure which one and, honestly, I can’t say that I exactly care enough to find out!

Paris Hilton makes her friend go down the stairs first so she can video Paris making a grand entrance.

Robin Thicke goes sauntering by with a girl and – well, let’s just say that he comes off exactly the same way in real life as he does in the media!

Marion Cotillard walks by right in front of me and smiles!

Mary J. Blige goes by telling her manager that there’s definitely no way she’s missing the after party that night!

Karolina Kurkova and her husband stand in front of me wondering what to do with a bottle of wine they’ve been given before noticing me. The husband approaches me with the bottle and asks if they can possibly leave it with me so I can return it to the front desk for them to pick up later. I agree, and they both look relieved and make a point of asking my name, making eye contact, shaking my hand, and thanking me by name! Very, very nice.

This all goes on for around 3 hours, and though it’s the middle of May, it still gets cold along the French Riviera in the evenings, especially when you’re right by the water (as this hotel is), and especially when all you’re wearing is a black dress and a light cardigan (as I am, along with all of the other female AIFS-ers, though most of them don’t even have cardis), and especially when it starts raining and you have to continue to stand there without an umbrella or anything! When we were first given our places, it was really hot, especially standing in the sun, but by the end of our time there I’m shivering and my pleasant look has, I’m sure, turned into a frozen blue grimace. Not to mention that standing in our specific pose for so long becomes painful! I eventually have to break my pose and move my hands to my front and scoot my left foot forward; I’m nervous about my Gadd blood getting me caught, but when I glance at our exhausted supervisor across the carpet, she’s let go of her previously rigidly held pose too. By the end, to combat both the pain and the temperature, I take to trying to subtly do little leg stretches or shoulder rolls when there aren’t celebrities right in front of me. One plus side to the rain is that it means that there aren’t as many guests lingering out on the carpet by the time the gala is about to start as there usually are, apparently, which means that we get to retire a little early!

Everybody is freezing and exhausted at this point, so we all eat a quick (free!) dinner and grab our stuff from our private bungalows and wait around for the bus to bring us back to the collège. We can hear little snippets of what’s going on in the tent (some auction item goes for over a million dollars!), and the evening’s final kicker is getting to hear Andrea Botticelli perform “Time to Say Goodbye” just before we leave! It’s seriously chill-inducing.

We finally make it back to the collège around 11:30 and I somehow manage to climb the three and a half flights of stairs to my room, mostly propelled by the prospect of putting on my pajamas and climbing into bed with my book before getting to sleep in the next morning. What an exhausting, painful, surreal, and one of a kind day!

(Sorry there aren’t any pictures – we couldn’t bring cameras and I left my phone in my room!)

“So, Where’s the Cannes Film Festival Being Held This Year?”

For my French 2 class in high school, we had to give a presentation on pretty much anything related to French. I had only relatively recently realized that film school was an actual option as far as college went, and this coupled with my frustration and boredom regarding the lack of creativity involved in most of my classes had me desperate to add anything arts-related to my curriculum wherever I could. So, I began researching the Cannes Film Festival and became enamored with its history, its glitz and glamour, and its obvious love for film. Public speaking has never been easy for me, but that presentation was the most fun one I ever gave in high school because it was about something that I was interested in and passionate about.

Fast forward a few years, and College Sophomore Grace is trying to figure out where to study abroad. I basically had it narrowed down to either London or somewhere in France; London seemed like a solid choice because of the thriving theatre community and the fact that they speak English, but at the same time the challenge of living in a country that spoke a different language seemed appealing as well. Plus I knew more about French culture and history because of studying it for 3 years in high school. No matter how long I weighed my two options, they only seemed to even out even more.

Until I discovered the Cannes program and saw that Chapman offered a chance to intern at the film festival. I could practically feel 16-Year-Old Grace’s eyes bugging out. That was it. How could I not grab at that opportunity?

Fast forward again another year and a half or so to this spring in Cannes. My alarm has just gone off at 7:45 for my morning French class, and I’m lolling in bed checking my email on my phone and putting off actually getting up for as long as I can. Mostly the usual – weekly updates from Chapman, something from another study abroad company whose mailing list I should really get off of since they’re always flooding me with emails and I didn’t choose one of their programs – stuff like that. But after all of that was an email with my internship announcement! I instantly woke up a bit more, and then even more when I realized that I had been placed with The Exchange, my first choice.

The way the whole internship placement thing works seems pretty simple, but at the same time I really don’t understand a lot of it. We were placed with our internships through some sort of matching service – almost like internship online dating or matchmaking, I guess? We were given a list of the companies we could potentially work with, and we got to research them and pick our top 5 or so choices to include in our cover letters, which we sent to the matchmaking company along with our resumes. Then somehow we’d be matched with whatever company was deemed the best fit – how they determined that, I have no idea.

Since we’d be interning in the film market at the film festival (basically where the films are sold and distributed vs. where they’re shown), all of the possibilities were distribution companies rather than production companies, so none of us had really heard of any of them before. So even with the research it was kind of difficult to pick the companies you liked because it wasn’t always easy to figure out what they were like, or what their “aesthetic” was or what have you. But what made The Exchange stick out to me was the variety of movies that it had, including some that I had seen and loved, like The Spectacular Now and Obvious Child. Their titles weren’t strictly drama or strictly action or strictly horror like it seemed like a lot of the other companies specialized in (and those are great for some people, but not the best fit for somebody who wants to be a comedy writer).

So I had my internship placement and a date for my first day! Festival, bring it on.

Day 1: The One Where I Get Laughed at by a French Paparazzo

I’d arranged with Danny, The Exchange’s head of marketing, to meet at their office at 9:00 to help set everything up and to get acquainted with the materials and all that jazz. The office is about a 20, 25 minute walk from the college, so naturally I set out at around 8:15 that morning (I can be punctual almost to a fault).

Of course I arrive at around 8:35, which seems almost embarrassingly early, but luckily there’s a little park (or at least a little circular area with benches and a fountain) just a little ways from the office, so I park there until about 5 til, which I figure is a bit less Extremely Early.

View from my bench in the park - the festival posters this year feature Ingrid Bergman!
View from my bench in the park – the festival posters this year feature Ingrid Bergman!

I make it to the building. This is it! My first day working at the film market. What I’ve been working up to for over a year. And, finally, I’m right on time. This is so exciting! I am so ready.

Our building - right next to Chanel!
Our building – right next to Chanel!

Wait. Why isn’t the door opening? How do I open the door?

There’s a little buzzer/intercom sort of deal, and I keep pressing the button that has The Exchange written by it, but the door will not open. I knew I shouldn’t have sat in that park thing for like 20 minutes! That was valuable time I could have spent trying to get in the darn building!

So I stand there buzzing and lightly panicking for another few minutes before going back out to the sidewalk to see if there’s anyone on one of the balconies I can ask to let me in. Sure enough, there’s a guy on the first floor! I yell up an “Excusez-moi” at him, but we can’t communicate much beyond that due to the noise on the street and in his office coupled with both of our rather pathetic Franglish attempts.

I go back to my position at the buzzer, but when I try the door again it opens! Apparently muffled Franglish was enough to get the general idea across. It’s maybe 10 minutes past 9 as I run up the stairs to the 2nd floor, trying to figure out how to explain that I’m late because I couldn’t figure out how the door worked.

When I find the door to the apartment on the second floor closed and locked as well, all I can really do is laugh. Of course. Doors are not my friend today! I knock and I ring the bell and I knock harder, and I finally realize that it’s okay that I’m late because they’re even later. Maybe they’re having trouble getting in the building too?

Since they could show up at any minute, I figure that awkwardly standing around and waiting is my best bet. A couple minutes go by. A fellow walks past me on his way down the stairs and greets me with a “bonjour”. He has a press badge and a big camera – my first paparazzi run-in!

5 minutes go by. Then 10. I’m digging around on my phone to see if there’s any sort of free wifi I can connect to to double check my email and make sure I got the date/time/location right. I hear the whir of the elevator coming up – maybe, come on, stop on the second floor, come on…! – but it keeps going. Another couple minutes and that same French paparazzo comes back down the stairs, a second big camera in hand. He takes one look at me still stuck out on the landing and greets me a second time with a huge and hearty guffaw.

Not even 10:00 yet and what a day!

Another 5 minutes and I’m almost ready to leave my post and go steal the free wifi at the McDonalds nearby when I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Instead of my French photographer friend, it’s Danny! He unlocks the door and, over an hour after I left the college, I am finally inside the office reporting for duty.

A little later, Caddy, the assistant to Brian (the CEO) and Nat (the vice president), comes in, and she and Danny and I work on turning the apartment we’re renting into an office space. It’s a seriously nice apartment – 3 bedrooms (2 of which become offices), an open living room/dining room/kitchen area, and a long balcony with a direct view of the Palais des Festivals. I can’t even imagine how much it must be to rent it. I feel like it should probably be featured on an episode of House Hunters International sometime.

Though they’d have to leave a manual about how to work the door.

But I digress! Danny and Caddy are both super nice, and I feel like I’m making a contribution to how everything is being set up. We rearrange furniture and set up a bunch of these long posters featuring their different titles. I’m just short enough that I have to stand on a chair in order to pull the posters all the way up, but I manage not to lose my balance (quite a feat, given my clumsy nature and the frequency with which only half of myself makes it through a doorway). It’s really exciting to see all of the different brochures and posters and everything they have – it becomes a real, legitimate office for a real, legitimate film company – and there I am in the middle of it all!

The living room/lobby area
The living room/lobby area
The kitchen - my domain!
The kitchen – my domain!
The view looking out on the lobby/entryway from where I usually sat
The view looking out on the lobby/entryway from where I usually sat

After heading out to lunch with Danny and Caddy – on the company! – I set out to find a cord for their company phone. With the phone and the wrong cord in my bag to show whoever helps me, I start off at FNAC (a sort of mash up of Barnes & Noble and Best Buy which, despite going there several times throughout my stay, I finally learn is pronounced “ph-knack” instead of “F.N.A.C.”). I go up to the help desk and explain that the cord I have doesn’t work and show them the phone – the eyes of the woman helping me get really big and she sort of snorts a laugh. They definitely don’t have a cord for a phone like that, but she tells me the name of another store I can go check.

I follow her directions and make my way down this little side street I’d never been down before, only to find that that shop is closed for lunch for a few hours – a common and frustrating occurrence in France. So I decide to head to the Orange store, one of the big French phone stores, and I get the exact same “big eyes and laugh” reaction when I show the guy there my phone. I guess it must be really old or something? He says that just getting a new phone would be cheaper than ordering a cord, so I go back and relay that information to Danny and Caddy.

Turns out that that phone has something programmed into it that means that it cannot just be replaced, so I head back out to the closed store the woman at FNAC had recommended, only it ends up being more of an office supply place than a phone place. After getting the same reaction plus the added bonus of an emphatic head shake, the woman working there gives me detailed directions back to the Orange store.

I go back and talk to a different guy (same reaction) and ask if I can buy a new phone that would have a cord that would work with the phone I had there. Definitely not possible. I ask if he has any idea where I might find another cord, and all he can come up with is FNAC.

Same reaction at SFR, the other big phone company. I call Danny and Caddy to let them know the overwhelming response I’ve been getting, and Danny has one last suggestion – this store with a black and red sign that involves going down an escalator. I manage to find it, only to get the same confused and amused response. 6 of those reactions, most of my afternoon, and one more phone call to Danny and Caddy later, and I am back at the office, helping set up just a few more posters before officially finishing my first day!

(They end up calling someone back at their office in LA to just express ship their normal cord over. C’est la vie.)

Day 2: The One Where I Don’t Say No To Haribo

Although I still leave too early and end up sitting in the park area for a bit, this morning runs much more smoothly – I am able to buzz up to our floor no problem and do not have to spend however long freaking out about being trapped outside my workplace!

Today is the first day of actual meetings where buyers from around the world come in and potentially buy The Exchange’s movies for their territory. My job is pretty simple – when people buzz to get into the building (AKA what I was futilely attempting to do yesterday), I answer the buzzer to let them in, greet them when they arrive at our floor, grab a business card from them if Caddy hasn’t, prepare them a beverage if they’re so inclined, and show them any promo material if Caddy is busy. And of course clean up and run to Monoprix (French Target) for more bottles of water and cans of Perrier and the like.

So basically I make a bunch (*a bunch*) of coffee and live in the beverage section of Monoprix and can now recite the promo for Radioactive, the biggest film they’re selling.

I also meet most of the rest of the team today – they are all just as welcoming as Danny and Caddy. Laurent, their French publicist and, from what I can tell, a sugar addict, advises me that one does not say no to Haribo and offers me a couple of his beloved gummies.

Despite having more people in the office and more people to greet and make sure are comfortable and all that, today feels quieter and calmer, which is nice. What I’m doing isn’t anything I can’t handle, and I feel like I’m helping things run a bit more smoothly. A good second day!

Day 3: The One Where I Spill Raspberry Sparkling Water On Myself

I have a few more jobs added to my roster now! I have the lunch and dinner reservation schedules for Brian, Nat, and Giovanna (the COO), and I call to either confirm or (more often) cancel and then reschedule. I always start off speaking in French, and about half the time I am able to hold a clear and decent conversation! Another quarter of the time the person at the restaurant switches to English after hearing my accent, and the other quarter the person on the other end thinks that I’m calling to make a reservation and seems confused as to what I want after they tell me that I’m already scheduled to eat there. But for something like that, 50% is not a bad success rate!

I also write “SOLD” under the titles that Brian and Nat have sold in certain territories. Each country/territory has a folder of avails, or a list of films available for them to buy, so I make sure that, say, End of a Gun won’t be acquired twice in Thailand.

And of course I keep the coffee coming.

At some point I end up spilling raspberry sparkling water all over myself – it was bound to happen at some point, given my innate clumsiness and tendency to fill cups just a little bit too high. At least it’s less noticeable than coffee or Coca Light, though I smell kind of fruity for the rest of the day.

For the most part, the buyers who come in are very nice and always say thank you when I bring their coffee out. Only a couple are kind of on the rude or picky side, and I’ve only been flat-out ignored once or twice, as well. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there have also been a couple of buyers who have been perhaps a bit too friendly (though I’m maybe being naïve and chalking that up to cultural differences).

Day 4: The One Where I Receive A Bunch of Bises

Today is when things become even more exciting! At this point I’ve settled into a sort of routine. I know where to go to bring back lunch that everyone will like, I know what my duties are, and I know where every drink imaginable is located in Monoprix.

But tonight is the first night I’m still there during the red carpet of a premiere! As I mentioned earlier, the office/apartment I’m working at is directly across from the Palais, so save for a palm tree, we have a pretty stellar view of the red carpet, which makes for some prime celebrity spotting!

View from our balcony!
View from our balcony!

Tonight is the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road, and though I don’t get to see the movie, I get to watch the cast walk the carpet (much to the dismay of my guy friends back home – I think that’s the only time they might have actually wanted to see a red carpet!). So I get to see Tom Hardy (not Tom Brady, as I always accidentally call him!), Nicholas Hoult, and Charlize Theron, accompanied by Sean Penn. I take loads of pictures on my phone and marvel over how even from across the street you can tell how gorgeous Charlize is.

Cast of Mad Max! Charlize is in the yellow
Cast of Mad Max! Charlize is in the yellow

In addition to all of this, Caddy invites me to go to a screening that evening with her – her boyfriend works with a production company that’s screening five short films that evening. I of course say yes, and we take off right after the carpet. The theatre is a ways away, and we have to call an Uber in order to make it on time.

After a bit of a wait for Simba, our Uber driver, we head off just a little ways past the collège to a theatre I never knew existed. Caddy is nervous that we’re late, but once we finally find the theatre, we are greeted by the entire family of Caddy’s French boyfriend. They are all extremely friendly and I receive bises (those cheek kiss greetings) from each and every one of them!

Bises feel pretty quintessentially French – living in France for 4 months, you see a whole lot of them take place, but I’d never really had the opportunity to participate in a bisou myself. So this makes me feel not only very welcomed, but like I’ve crossed an important item off of my French Study Abroad Bucket List! Bises are basically the French version of hugging someone you know when you see them. Personally I feel more comfortable with hugging, but I’ve heard from several French people that they feel that hugs are much more intimate because more of your bodies are touching. Which actually makes sense, but I guess I feel as though the face is a bit more up close and personal. But if somebody French sees you hugging someone else, they apparently assume that one of you has just experienced the death of someone close. Just goes to show how influential cultural upbringing is!

Anyway. After meeting and cheek kissing the entirety of Caddy’s boyfriend’s family, the screening starts. Each of the films is really interesting and well done, and there are even a couple of really clever animated ones. The directors are all in the audience, so there’s a multilingual q+a session after they play. It’s interesting listening to each director talk about their work, but it’s kind of complicated because the audience primarily speaks English or French, and even though all but one of the directors are able to answer the questions in one of those languages, the q+a moderators need to translate the answers into whichever other language the director doesn’t speak (or, in the case of the Spanish directors, both languages!).

After the screening, Caddy and I mingle for a bit before receiving a thousand more goodbye cheek kisses and heading back to the collège for me and the office for Caddy.

Day 5: The One Where I Count People In A Theatre

Another usual day of buying drinks and preparing drinks, but for a little bit this afternoon I do it all by myself! Caddy has a meeting of her own, so I get to man the front desk and call people who haven’t shown up and tell Nat and Brian when people are there to see them. It wouldn’t have been bad if four different people hadn’t all shown up at the exact same time! But I manage to keep promos playing and the coffee machine running, so I count that as a success.

Another exciting change is that I get to go to one of the company screenings! Danny takes me to a showing of Wild Oats, starring Shirley Maclaine and Jessica Lange, so I can see what happens at more business-oriented screenings like this. You need a Festival badge to get in, and it’s generally for people who are either interested in buying the film and want to get a taste of what it’s like or people who have already bought it and want to see the finished product.

Danny leaves after maybe the first 15 minutes, but I get to stay and finish the movie and keep track of how many people are still left by the end. Generally buyers don’t stay for the entire film, sometimes because they have other meetings or screenings to get to, and sometimes because they can tell pretty early in whether or not it’s a good fit for their company. Far as I could tell, it seemed like there was still a decent amount of people left by the end, and the movie seemed to have a really positive response – people were laughing out loud!

On a sidenote, Wild Oats is a really fun movie, and I thought that it was really exciting that the two lead characters are women over the age of 60!

After the screening I head back to the office just in time to catch the red carpet for Irrational Man, the new Woody Allen movie. I got to see him, Emma Stone, and Parker Posey, all of whom I love! (Save for Allen’s, shall we say, extremely questionable and unsettling personal life)

L-R Emma Stone, Woody Allen, and Parker Posey, feat. a palm tree!
L-R Emma Stone, Woody Allen, and Parker Posey, feat. a palm tree!

Day 6: The One Where I Sneak Around With A Birthday Cake

Today is Giovanna’s birthday, so Caddy asks me to pick up a chocolate cake at Paul’s when I run there around 1 to pick up lunch for everybody. It takes a bit of effort to get across that I want the whole cake (tout le gateau), but I finally leave with a cake box in hand and a bag full of sandwiches and strawberry tarts on my arm!

The next main challenge of the day is hiding it where G won’t see it; Caddy and I finally hide it behind some folders on a box underneath the table behind her desk, figuring that it’s such a convoluted place that G won’t really have any reason to look there. We’re being pretty obvious about it, we think, but we figure that we’ll go ahead and keep doing our (kind of pathetic) best to keep it a surprise!

Later in the afternoon (after watching Natalie Portman and the cast of A Tale of Love and Darkness walk the carpet!) I make a Monoprix run to pick up some candles, and after the last sales meeting Caddy and I huddle behind one of the giant posters to light them, again assuming that we’re being pretty darn obvious. But G seems surprised when we bring the cake out and everybody starts singing to her! It’s really clear that The Exchange people are like a family, which makes for a really fun and supportive work environment. I got really lucky!

Natalie Portman in the middle
Natalie Portman in the middle

After some delicious cake and some last minute tidying up, I meet my roommate Kailyn downstairs outside of the office and we go grab grands cornets of fries (big cones – only we got them to go, so they were in little boxes), and we eat at a little bench outside and people watch all the fancy people on their way to the premiere of The Sea of Trees (which just might have been the most hated movie of the festival, which is a shame because not only did it have really big buzz beforehand, but because it ended the McConnaissance as well – better luck next time, Matt!).

After our makeshift dinner, Kailyn and I walk around the Croisette, taking in all the madness of the festival. Most of my festival wandering up to this point has consisted of going to Monoprix, so it’s exciting to see the rest of Cannes so lit up and lively. There are a thousand yachts having parties, all of the big fancy hotels have throngs of people lined up outside of them waiting to see celebrities, and everybody looks super glamorous. It’s seriously a whole different city than the one we’ve been living in for the last 3.5 months!

Even the palm trees were dressed up!
Even the palm trees were dressed up!
Looking back on the city all lit up
Looking back on the city all lit up
In front of the red carpet!
In front of the red carpet!
Our balcony/banner
Our balcony/banner

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the night is seeing somebody dressed up as Mrs. Doubtfire riding around on a little scooter honking at people as we walk back to the collège. That person might be my new hero.

Madame Doubtfire
Madame Doubtfire

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Day 7: The One Where Cate Blanchett Gives Me Chills

I get to run the front desk again for a bit this morning as Caddy takes another meeting, but this time it’s much quieter! The only person who comes in is a buyer from India who stays and chats with me for maybe half an hour as he has the coffee and banana I offered him. We get to talk about LA and he tells me all about Vegas and some of his various business trips. He assumes that I’m an actual employee and not an intern who has only been working with The Exchange for a week, which is very nice of him!

I also get to call and reschedule an appointment with an Australian buyer. After making a bunch of phone calls to pretty much every restaurant in Cannes and attempting to speak in French each time, this seems like the easiest phone call I’ve ever made just because I get to speak in my native language!

I go on two Monoprix runs throughout the day, and it sort of makes me feel like I’m visiting San Francisco or Berkeley. In the morning, I see an angel and a guy holding a lance wandering through the hair product section, and on my way back to the office after my afternoon trip, I see two stilt walkers!

Which is pretty cool, but nothing can compare to getting to watch the red carpet for Carol that evening. I get to see Rooney Mara and the stunning and talented Cate Blanchett! Even from a balcony across the street, you can tell that Cate’s dress is gorgeous and she moves with such grace. I get chills watching her!

Cate in blue and Rooney in white with director Todd Haynes
Cate in blue and Rooney in white with director Todd Haynes

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Believe it or not she even beats out seeing Mrs. Doubtfire again as I walk back to the collège after work!

Day 8: The One Where I Die Because I See Amy Poehler

Brian’s first meeting this morning is canceled, so he takes me out onto the balcony so we can chat until his next meeting shows up. (Did I mention that I got super lucky with the company I’m working with?) Being a writer, I ask him about how they acquire the films that they’re selling and what he looks for in a movie or a script, and he talks about how the greatest films are “empathy machines” that make you feel something for the characters and that that is really what the heart of storytelling is. (Funnily enough, one of my college admissions essays was about exactly the same topic!) I really appreciate him taking the time to talk to me and speak so honestly about the type of content that speaks to him as an industry professional.

The rest of the day is pretty standard until around 6:15 or so when the red carpet for Inside Out begins! This is the red carpet I’m most excited for because a) it’s Pixar! and b) Amy Poehler! I invite Kailyn to come up and watch the red carpet from the balcony with us, so she comes over and gets to see the office and the carpet!

I should preface this by saying that Amy Poehler is, like she is to pretty much any woman who wants to write comedy, an enormous influence and inspiration to me. If I’m ever feeling down or stressed, a quick trip to Pawnee with Leslie Knope (one of the strongest female characters on TV, I would argue) gives me the laughs or the extra push that I need. When I got my hands on a copy of Yes, Please, I read it like my life depended on it. I think it’s so admirable that both Amy and her comedy embrace accepting others for their differences and being supportive and being thankful and listening to yourself and that women are strong and smart and capable and, yes, funny!

So when Amy hits the carpet with Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith, I very nearly lose it. I don’t tend to get starstruck that often, really, but watching Amy follow basically all of Pixar up those stairs at the palais is indelibly part of my memories now.

Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, and Amy Poehler taking on the paparazzi
Mindy Kaling, Lewis Black, Phyllis Smith, and Amy Poehler taking on the paparazzi
Amy climbing the stairs
Amy climbing the stairs
Cast and Pixar crew
Cast and Pixar crew

After cleaning the office and attempting to recover from seeing Amy, I head out to dinner with Giovanna, Danny, Caddy, and Laurent! We end up at Le Caveau 30 (passing Mrs. Doubtfire on the way!), which is delicious and way more expensive than any place I’d have gone to on my own! (Thank you to the company for such a wonderful meal!) It’s a lot of fun getting to chat with everybody about the various other places in Europe we’ve all been and to learn more about their lives back in LA.

A quick spot of gelato for dessert (Laurent orders the biggest cup of gelato I’ve ever seen!), and we go our separate ways for the night. I am truly so lucky to be working with such warm and welcoming people.

Also, I SAW AMY POEHLER!!!

Day 9: The One Where I Almost Go To Italy

Today is the last day of actual meetings! It’s so crazy to realize that this wonderful experience is reaching its close.

Things are quieting down a lot now, and in between making coffee for buyers Danny and I start packing up what we can of the office, like repacking some of the posters and going through the various office supplies on the table behind Caddy’s desk and putting away what’s not used super often. Nat only has morning meetings, so after he leaves for lunch we start packing up his office as well. The apartment is starting to look empty! It’s a very strange feeling.

Giovanna leaves before lunch to catch a train to Ventimiglia and then to Milan for a little vacation in Italy and Greece before flying back to LA. It’s sad to see her go!

But her departure brings a little extra excitement into my life when a few hours later Danny gets a call from her – she left her phone at the office (she must have been borrowing somebody else’s phone?) and wants me to hop on the next train to Ventimiglia to bring it to her! Danny seems very confused by the whole thing, but when I tell him that the train to and from Ventimiglia would be a 2 hour round trip and would involve my going to another country, he tells G that he’ll just express ship her the phone!

Later that evening I watch my last red carpet from the balcony – Sicario, starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin.

Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin
Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin

Day 10: The One Where I Become A Lady Who Lunches

Today is my last day with The Exchange in Cannes! It’s a pretty light day – I don’t have to arrive til 11 instead of 8:30, which means I get some delightful and much-needed time to sleep in!

The rest of the day just consists of finishing cleaning up the office and packing up posters and equipment. I work with Danny and Caddy for an hour or two before Brian and Nat ask me to lunch with them!

We go to a restaurant directly on the beach – one of the really fancy ones that my roommate and I always kind of marvel at. It’s definitely another one of those expensive places that I can’t justify going to on my own! I get a salad and share some fries with Brian and get to ask them all of my questions about what exactly happens in the sales meetings and what advice they have for me as a writer. I also get to listen to a good amount of uncensored shop talk, which is just as valuable and informative as asking them questions. It’s so sweet and kind of them to take the time and make the effort to take the intern to lunch, and I think that it really says a lot about the quality of the people I am so fortunate to have worked with.

Nat and me at lunch à la plage
Nat and me at lunch à la plage

When I return from lunch, there’s just a bit more cleaning up to do, and I’m free to go by 3:00! It’s bittersweet hugging Caddy and Danny goodbye, but I’m looking forward to visiting them in their LA office this summer!

(Thanks to Christina Aguilera for the title quote! 🙂 )

An American in Paris

Our first couple of weeks in Cannes, the Collège was also hosting another group of Americans staying here for a bit to brush up on the language before beginning their time studying abroad in Paris. I sat at the vegetarian table at lunch with a couple of them, and they were so eager to find out which arrondissement their homestays would be in and to adopt a chic Parisian lifestyle.

Paris is definitely a more common and popular study abroad destination than Cannes, perhaps simply because it’s such a well-known and iconic city. There’s also supposed to be quite a difference between the north and the south of France, with the south (where I am) being more laidback and friendly. So needless to say, I was so excited to get to spend a long weekend in Paris with AIFS not only because a) it’s *Paris*, but also b) I was curious to see how it lived up to the different stereotypes and stories I’ve been hearing about it (namely, fabulous food, a romantic atmosphere, and effortlessly chic and bordering on rude Parisians rushing around everywhere).

Paris did not fail to deliver!

Our day started out bright and early as we grabbed breakfast around 7ish before stuffing all of our luggage onto a bus to head to the Nice airport. Throughout breakfast and while we were loading onto the bus, Sandrine checked multiple times with people to make sure that we all had our passports. However, when she checked again as the bus was pulling away, one fellow raised his hand from the back of the bus to double check that it was okay that he just had a copy of his passport.

Some people.

Luckily he was a homestay and we would be passing right near his host mom’s apartment on the way to the airport, so any delays were minimal, but the panic and disbelief in Sandrine’s eyes were real! I don’t envy her for having to travel with nearly 40 18-22 year olds. She and Aude are seriously saints!

Also luckily, the rest of the journey to Paris went quite smoothly! The bus, plane, and lastly another bus to our hotel in the Bastille district were all quite uneventful and nice chances to rest (or, for some people, sleep) before spending the day in Paris.

After checking into the hotel, we had about an hour or so before we had to meet in the lobby to go on a bus tour of the city, so Kailyn and I wandered around the Place de la Bastille, finding this cute little outdoor market and some hot chocolate (bien sûr!) and Nutella beignets.

La colonne de Juillet sur la place de la Bastille
La colonne de Juillet sur la place de la Bastille
Came across this market just before it started packing up!
Came across this market just before it started packing up!

We found our way back to the hotel with no problems and made it in time for the bus tour, led by a very warm and hilarious guide. We went all around Paris, covering quite a bit in just 2 hours, which managed to be both very helpful and somewhat disorienting as it was difficult to keep straight what was near what.

One of the first major points we stopped at was L’Hôtel national des Invalides, which houses a bunch of military-related museums and is the burial site of some of France’s war heroes, including the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. Our guide told us about how one of Napoleon’s last wishes was for people to bow at his grave, but nobody complied; so, in order to fulfill his wishes, his tomb was put into a giant hole in the floor so that people would have to look down to see it, essentially being forced into bowing. She also told us that one of his…parts (ahem) is currently residing in New Jersey (which seems rather fitting somehow) – it was bought by a surgeon, I believe, but is now in his granddaughter’s possession after his death. Such a lovely keepsake from your grandfather! Apparently France recently asked if it could be returned to the rest of Napoleon, but the granddaughter refused because she is not a huge fan of France. Our guide was relieved, however, because it being returned would have sparked a homecoming celebration – the president would have had to give a speech welcoming it back, and it would have had a police escort and the like. Honestly, I would love to see it return just for the news coverage!

Les Invalides
Les Invalides

Another stop was, of course, by the Eiffel Tower! We drove around it before parking near a terrace sort of place with a wonderful view and lots of vendors selling little Eiffel Tower keychains.

J'adore Paris
J’adore Paris
Kailyn et moi
Kailyn et moi
La Tour Eiffel!
La Tour Eiffel!

As we circled the tower, our guide told us about all of the marriage proposals that take place there, including when Tom Cruise proposed to Katie Holmes; apparently he rented out the entire restaurant on the second floor for the two of them, but then he put the ring in a champagne glass, which the guide thought was very clichéd and boring. She then told us that she had a friend whose husband proposed to her by putting the ring in her bowl of carrot soup, which she thought was even worse – she spent a few rather hilarious minutes detailing why exactly her friend shouldn’t have accepted that proposal (though they are very happily married now!).

She also told us about how a while back a pregnant woman was visiting the Eiffel Tower when she went into labor while taking the elevator up to the top, and her child ended up being born in the elevator! As if the story wasn’t cool enough, the Eiffel Tower has also thrown the kid birthday parties and has given him a pass for free entry without lines whenever he wants.

Additionally, we drove down the Champs-Élysées, around the Arc de Triomphe (which has crazy traffic! There are something like 12 lanes, and accidents are so common that there’s a law that no matter who is at fault, both parties are considered to be equally responsible), and all around the Seine and its countless bridges and green boxes (or bouquinistes – basically stands that sell old books and posters!).

Some green boxes in front of Notre Dame
Some green boxes in front of Notre Dame
Looking out on the Seine - that bridge is covered in locks
Looking out on the Seine – that bridge is covered in locks

When we arrived back at the hotel, we had a few hours til we had to meet up in the lobby again to go to dinner as a group, so Kailyn and I decided to try to go see Notre Dame. Somehow, though, I think we ended up going in the opposite direction (maybe?), because we ended up getting pretty turned around and managed to wind up in a residential area of Paris (circles and residential areas are our specialties). We’re still not exactly sure where we ended up, but we passed by a church that we got to go into – not quite Notre Dame, but still pretty interesting!

Une église
Une église

By the time we made it back to the hotel, it was pretty much time for dinner, which was at this cute little restaurant maybe a 10 minute walk from the hotel, and which – best of all! – was free, courtesy of AIFS. I had a salad with toast and goat cheese, a “vegetarian plate” that consisted of mashed potatoes, a fried egg, and some little green thing that I could not identify but could maybe be described as a veggie soufflé?, and some pretty stellar chocolate lava cake for dessert!

We were all exhausted after dinner, but Kailyn and a few other girls and I decided to figure out how to take the Métro back to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up at night. We double checked the route we were planning to take with a woman at the Métro information desk (in French!) and soon found ourselves on ligne 8 headed towards l’École Militaire.

A quick word about the Métro – it’s pretty fantastic! Maybe this is just because I’ve spent the last 3ish years living in Southern California, where the public transportation is basically nonexistent, but it’s so convenient and easy to navigate, and I never felt unsafe. We took it several times a day, and by the time we left I was even beginning to remember which stops were along which line. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

So we get off at l’École Militaire, and la Tour Eiffel is just a short walk away – and it’s stunning. It has a little 3 minute lightshow every night on the hour which we wanted to see, so we had a bit of time to kill, which we spent taking pictures and fighting off vendors and commenting that it didn’t seem real that we were actually there.

Kailyn et moi
Kailyn et moi
The trees along the side are trimmed so that they're basically box-like - they have perfect right angles and straight edges!
The trees along the side are trimmed so that they’re basically box-like – they have perfect right angles and straight edges!

Finally at 9 the twinkling starts, and I didn’t think it was possible, but the Eiffel Tower at night got even more beautiful. I wish that I could post the video I took of it on here, because the pictures don’t do it justice! It also impressed some guys standing near us who apparently didn’t know that it twinkled every hour: “What! Oh my God! What the freak is going on? That’s so freaking cool!”

So sparkly!
So sparkly!

Figuring that that was a pretty good way to call it a night, we headed back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep before our early morning!

The next morning, the whole group met up in the lobby again for a trip to the Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses some seriously impressive Monet. The main floor consists of a couple of circular rooms that hold what are essentially panoramas of Water Lilies – the sheer size of them and the fact that they’re all around you make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Monet painting.

Le  Musée de l'Orangerie
Le Musée de l’Orangerie
The Waterlily paintings took up the entire circular rooms
The Waterlily paintings took up the entire circular rooms
Les Nymphéas
Les Nymphéas

The bottom floor is small but has a decent number of paintings by other artists, including Picasso and Matisse. Fun fact: I had a book called “When Pigasso Met Mootisse” when I was a kid in which Picasso was a pig and Matisse was a cow, and the illustrations were done in their different styles. Loved the book, but now I always have to stop and think about what their real names are!

When Pigasso...
When Pigasso…
...Met Mootisse!
…Met Mootisse!

After making our way through the museum, Kailyn and I hopped on the Métro to go to the Palais Garnier, the grand opera house where The Phantom of the Opera takes place. We found the building no problem (the stop we got off at was called Opéra, so it was pretty close!), but we ended up circling around the entire exterior looking for the entrance. It took another half-circuit around the building before, luckily, we saw some other people entering through a tiny little gate that we definitely would have just passed by again.

This side of the exterior is lined with busts of different composers
This side of the exterior is lined with busts of different composers
Turns out there's a tiny little door over on this side where you're supposed to enter!
Turns out there’s a tiny little door over on this side where you’re supposed to enter!

The inside is kind of ridiculously ornate – it’s absolutely beautiful and so fancy! There were scattered displays with various costumes, and we got to wander through a theatrical library and the gorgeous grand foyer. We also took a peek inside the theatre itself, and though all but a couple lights were off, we were able to see the stage and the chandelier that is so iconic from the musical. This trip was too busy to try to get tickets for a show, but the next time I’m in Paris I would love to be able to see a production and get the whole opera house experience!

The grand staircase
The grand staircase
The theatrical library - book heaven!
The theatrical library – book heaven!
The grand foyer
The grand foyer
The theatre - they were performing Swan Lake that evening
The theatre – they were performing Swan Lake that evening (though I don’t know if that’s what this set is!)
A very fancy and velvety costume
A very fancy and velvety costume
Dans le grand foyer
Dans le grand foyer

Then it was back yet again to the Eiffel Tower to meet up with the AIFS group to go up to the top of the tower!

As we were going through security to get to the elevators (which are huge yet cramped at the same time), there were these bins of confiscated items that were to be destroyed later on. Among the items were a surprising number of butter knives, which just raised so many questions.

The top of the Eiffel Tower reminded me a lot of the top of the Empire State Building – very cold and very windy with a beautiful view, though sadly our view that day was hindered by a lovely fog/smog combo. It was so cold and foggy/smoggy that Kailyn and I did a quick walk around and decided to start working our way back down.

I was apparently 8964 km from San Francisco!
I was apparently 8964 km from San Francisco!
Looking down on the Seine
Looking down on the Seine
Our beautifully clear and unobstructed view
Our beautifully clear and unobstructed view

We took the elevator back down to the second floor, where we browsed around some of the shops inside the tower just to warm up a bit (I never realized just how many products the Eiffel Tower could be incorporated into!), and then got in line for the elevator down to the first floor, but upon seeing how long it was, we somewhat foolishly decided that taking the stairs wouldn’t be so bad.

I guess we were partially right – it was a thousand times easier than if we had decided to climb the stairs! But given my natural clumsiness, I was on constant alert to make sure I stayed upright and didn’t miss a step, and the stairs seemed as though they just kept coming. I had just reached the point where I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life going down those stairs when we reached the first floor without even stumbling once!

Here we found an area where the floor was made out of (really sturdy) glass so you could look down at all the people and vendors milling about below the tower, and we heard our first announcement warning the tower’s visitors to “remain vigilant. The pickpockets are active!” The wording gave us a good chuckle, and since we’re both big Harry Potter fans, we knew a thing or two about constant vigilance (thank you, Moody!), so we managed to survive the trip with all of our belongings!

Good thing I wasn't wearing a dress that day!
Good thing I wasn’t wearing a dress that day!

Having learned our lesson before, we took the elevator down to the ground level and set off towards the Métro to go to Montmartre, one of the artsier sections of Paris and home of the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.

Montmartre was definitely one of my favorite parts of Paris. It’s a warm and adorable area, and the people there feel very welcoming and accepting.

Our first stop was Sacré Coeur, which involved walking up a bunch of stairs from our Métro stop to the area the basilica was in, and then several stairs more to get to the actual entrance. We were able to walk through (sadly no pictures allowed inside!), and it was huge and absolutely beautiful.

942 steps later...
942 steps later…

From there we were off in search of a little artists’ market behind the basilica, which was fun to browse through. The creative energy there was very exciting!

Our last stop in Montmartre was one that my inner film nerd had really been looking forward to. Amélie is one of my all-time favorite movies – for me, she is a remarkably relatable character, and the emphasis the film places on whimsy and helping others (and yourself) is inspiring. The café she works at in the film, Café des 2 Moulins, is an actual place in Montmartre, so we found our way there and I got to step into the world of Amélie for a while.

Embracing my inner Amélie
Embracing my inner Amélie

The inside of the café is decked out in pictures from the movie; we sat at a table near a giant poster signed by the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. We even ordered the Goûter d’Amélie special (the Taste of Amélie), which consisted of hot chocolate and crème brulée, which I got a huge kick out of because one of the character’s favorite things is cracking the top of crème brulée with a teaspoon. So of course I took extra care and joy in cracking the top of mine, and it was absolutely delicious!

"She cultivates a taste for small pleasures: dipping her hand into sacks of grain, cracking crème brûlée with a teaspoon, and skipping stones at St. Martin's Canal."
“She cultivates a taste for small pleasures: dipping her hand into sacks of grain, cracking crème brûlée with a teaspoon, and skipping stones at St. Martin’s Canal.”
Looking out over the cafe
Looking out over the cafe

Next it was time to say goodbye (for now!) to Montmartre and head back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the group to go to a one man comedy show about how to become a true Parisian. It was…entertaining! He certainly went some places I wasn’t expecting. It was definitely the most vulgar school-sponsored trip I’ve been on! A lot of the people in our group didn’t seem to care for it, and while there were some parts I wasn’t sure about, I thought it was fun overall.

Le théâtre
Le théâtre

After the show was over, we decided to find some dinner somewhere; a couple other girls had told us that there was a Chipotle near the theatre, which, despite not being very French, sounded heavenly, so we set out in search of that. We knew that we just had to head down the street from the theatre, but we weren’t sure in which direction. So we chose one at random and headed off, figuring that if we didn’t find it soon we’d just turn back. On our way down the road that first way, we ran into Sandrine and Aude by the Métro stop. They double checked to make sure that we knew where we were going (we had a good enough idea, so we said that we did) and wished us a good night. A couple more minutes down that street, and we decided to turn back. Naturally, Aude and Sandrine were still by that Métro stop, and they definitely saw us retracing our steps just moments after saying that we knew where we were going!

This next direction turned out to be right, and we found a corner that was basically a little American section – there was the Chipotle, a Starbucks (which we would later return to!), a McDonalds, and Paris’ Hard Rock Café. I got a burrito and some chips and guacamole and there was actual spice! It was a beautiful, beautiful reunion!

<3

The next morning we were up early again to go tour the Louvre! We were split up into groups touring in French and in English (I went for English since I definitely don’t know enough art or history vocab to get a lot out of a tour in French) and were all given headphones and a little listening device sort of like when we were touring in Florence, which was nice because we didn’t have to huddle around the guide and could wander around the room as she spoke.

As every tour guide who talks to you about Paris will tell you, the Louvre is so massive that even if you spend just 30 seconds at each work of art, it will still take you 100 days (nonstop, with no breaks) to see everything. So we saw just a teensy tiny fraction of what the Louvre has to offer, but we hit the most famous parts of the museum, including, of course, the Mona Lisa (since you always hear about how it’s smaller than most people imagine, it was actually a bit bigger than I had expected!) and my personal favorite, Winged Victory of Samothrace (the movement is unbelievable – I swear you can hear the wings beating).

Bottom part of the Pyramid
Bottom part of the Pyramid
Winged Victory of Samothrace
Winged Victory of Samothrace
Mona Lisa had a ton of visitors!
Mona Lisa had a ton of visitors!
La Liberté guidant le peuple
La Liberté guidant le peuple

After our tour finished, Kailyn and I didn’t linger too long – we could have easily spent all day wandering the Louvre, but we had a full itinerary planned! We made our way out (after posing in front of the pyramid) and headed across the river to the Musée d’Orsay! I remember watching videos about that museum in my high school French class and daydreaming about how amazing it would be to visit one day, so I was very glad that we were able to fit it in!

Pyramide du Louvre
Pyramide du Louvre

After about a half hour wait in the wind and the freezing cold with a rhinoceros statue to keep us company, we headed up to the top floor to the Impressionism collection. There’s such an impressive assortment of Monet, Degas, Manet, etc. It was especially interesting because we’d been studying the different Impressionists in our art history class here, so we were able to understand more of the backstory behind the pieces and even see a good number of the specific works that we’d studied!

We more or less only knew of the Impressionism section, and it turns out that the museum is much larger! We also made our way through a few other areas, including the post-Impressionism section, which houses some pieces by my favorite, Van Gogh!

Le musée d'Orsay
Le musée d’Orsay
More Monet
More Monet
La rue Montorgueil à Paris. Fête du 30 juin 1878 - Monet
La rue Montorgueil à Paris. Fête du 30 juin 1878 – Monet
Bronze copy of Petite danseuse de 14 ans - Degas
Bronze copy of Petite danseuse de 14 ans – Degas
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe - Manet
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe – Manet
La nuit étoilée - Van Gogh
La nuit étoilée – Van Gogh
Two Llamas
Two Llamas
You can really tell that it used to be a train station in this area
You can really tell that it used to be a train station in this area

Our goal after the Musée d’Orsay was to head to Versailles for the afternoon. I should mention, too, that for our last two days in Paris (so this day and the next), all public transportation was free because of the air pollution. This worked out great, because it meant that we wouldn’t have to buy an extension to the Métro passes AIFS had given us all.

Also conveniently enough, one of the stops to catch the train we would need to take to head to Versailles was at the Musée d’Orsay, so we just headed down and hopped on the next train headed in that direction.

We only made it one stop, however, before the train totally stopped and went dark and everyone had to get off (not entirely sure where!).

We asked one of the train workers how to get to Versailles, and he told us to take the Métro line N to some stop and to then take a bus. So we set off towards the main section of the station we were at, which happened to be a huge port for trains, the Métro, buses, and the like. We looked around for anything saying line N, but all we could find with an N was a night bus, which didn’t seem quite right. So we looked around for an information desk to ask somebody else, but we were told the same thing. At this point, we figured that we were getting nowhere pretty quickly, and it was getting to be late enough that we probably wouldn’t have been able to spend much time at Versailles before it closed. So we decided to cut our losses and take the Métro back towards Notre Dame. That had been on our agenda for after Versailles anyway, but we hadn’t been sure if we’d have time to actually go inside, so we figured that this way we’d at least get one of the items on our list definitely checked off.

We made it to the island Notre Dame is on, figuring that it wouldn’t be too hard to find from there. After all, there’s a limited number of places a giant cathedral can hide!

Leave it to us to somehow get lost looking for a huge tourist attraction on a small island!

After a kind of embarrassing amount of wandering around, we finally managed to stumble across it! We got in a long line to go inside, and enjoyed listening to the two fellows studying abroad in Spain gossiping in line behind us (apparently one guy in their program really needs to tone down the partying!).

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris
It's not crooked/leaning in real life!
It’s not crooked/leaning in real life!

We finally made it inside, and all I can really say is wow! It’s immense and the stained glass is gorgeous. We also went into the treasury, which let us get much closer to said stained glass and some super shiny religious objects.

Chandelier and glass
Chandelier and glass
So round!
So round!
So colorful!
So colorful!
So intricate!
So intricate!
So shiny!
So shiny!

By the time we made it through, we figured that we still had time to go to Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel right near Notre Dame; my friend Dennis has always told me that the stained glass there is even more breathtaking than that at Notre Dame, so I’ve been pretty curious about it.

The line for Sainte-Chapelle was a good bit shorter than the one at Notre Dame, but much much slower. It was very cold outside and our feet were absolutely killing us at that point, but we were determined to make it in!

All we can figure about the line is that it was slower because the security was higher – we had to go through a metal detector and the like here, while at Notre Dame there was just a brief (surprisingly brief!) bag check. We think this was because, for some reason, the entrance gives access to both this chapel and the palais de justice.

Dennis was right (thank you for the suggestion!) – the stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle was breathtaking! We climbed this very narrow and steep stairway to get to the second floor, which brings you to this room that is floor to ceiling gorgeous stained glass. It’s truly a magnificent and humbling sight, and I would absolutely suggest making it a must-see if going to Paris!

It's all around you - almost like the Waterlilies at the Musée d'Orangerie
It’s all around you – almost like the Waterlilies at the Musée d’Orangerie
They're so clear and are in beautiful shape
They’re so clear and are in beautiful shape
Almost overwhelmingly beautiful
Almost overwhelmingly beautiful

We were just dead tired at this point, so we decided to grab dinner at a little café across the street – omelets, fries, hot chocolate, and dessert crepes definitely hit the spot and were the extra oomph we needed to get back to the hotel in one piece! We also got to enjoy the strong southern accents of the group of older Americans sitting near us as they tried to figure out what the menu meant and planned their schedule for the next day.

We were back at the hotel pretty darn early that night, but there was no way we could have handled seeing anymore, either physically or mentally! Going to bed early was exactly what our achy feet needed.

Our last morning started off with the AIFS group going off to the Seine for a river cruise/tour! We all eagerly piled onto the top of the boat for the best view, but as the tour got going, more and more people fled to the heated downstairs section! It started off alright, but it eventually got to be so freezing (especially with the biting wind) that all but a couple brave souls were down trading in the gorgeous view for the preferred warmth and shelter! I was able to stay up top for about half of the tour, but once my tears started freezing I figured it was time to admit defeat.

The tour itself was interesting – we got to see a lot of the details of the bridges up close, which we didn’t really have the opportunity to see on land. I was also glad that we had this tour at the end of our trip, because already being familiar with the city made it easier to pick out which buildings the guide was talking about.

Lotsa locks
Lotsa locks

We had a few hours after the tour before having to meet back at the hotel to check out. Kailyn and I decided to take it pretty easy since we had been running around nonstop for the last few days, so we went back to the area near the theatre from a couple nights before and grabbed lunch at this delicious little Italian place before heading across the street to the Starbucks for a little taste of home.

As I mentioned before, Parisians tend to have two stereotypes around them – that they’re either super rude or super romantic/flirty. I don’t recall encountering any outright rude Parisians – they tend to rush everywhere and avoid eye contact, and there were some that maybe weren’t exactly friendly, but not rude. So, based on my experience, I’d say that that stereotype is only semi-true. I would have said the same about the flirty/romantic one, too – but then I met the Starbucks barista.

So I order my drink from him, and as he starts making it he asks me to go over by him. I have this super helpful brain block where I can’t tell when people are flirting with me at first, so I assume that it’s just how Starbucks works in France and join him. He starts asking me questions (not related to my drink, like I had been expecting!) like where I’m from and how long I’ll be in Paris, and I tell him that I’m leaving that afternoon but had spent the weekend there. He then says something that I don’t quite understand, so I say “Sorry?” and he repeats himself – I still don’t quite catch it but don’t feel that I can ask again, so I just kind of laugh a little and say yeah. It wasn’t until he told me that I was breaking his heart that it clicked that he had been asking if it was too late to ask me out! I then proceeded to feel very awkward as he asked me about what I’m studying – he seemed super impressed that I study film/screenwriting and even had a screenwriting book to recommend for me. He apparently spends a ton of time at the movies and wanted to talk New Hollywood with me, but by that point my drink was ready and he had to start making Kailyn’s, so he tells me to come back sometime so we can talk movies some more, and I go and find a table. Kailyn joins me a minute later, cracking up because the guy kept asking her questions about me (including if I already had a boyfriend) and he told her to try to get me to come back again before we left Paris. Once we finished, I tried to sneak out unnoticed as he was taking another customer’s order, but he saw us going and called out a very hearty “Bye, Grace!” coupled with a wink.

So I think I accidentally have a Parisian barista boyfriend now?

On our way back towards the Métro to head back to the hotel, we found this little shopping area that was almost like a tiny outside mall that we wandered through – it had the most adorable little stores that made for some really fun window shopping. My favorite was this old bookstore that was unfortunately closed that day!

Book heaven pt. 2
Book heaven pt. 2

It was finally time to head back to the hotel to catch the bus to the airport to catch the plane to Nice to hop on a bus back to Cannes (phew!)!

Long story short – Paris was absolutely amazing. The amount of history and culture in that city is remarkable, and there’s no way to see or experience even a semi-decent amount of it in the short time we were there. I’d absolutely love to go back someday (though I may think twice before going back to that Starbucks!).

Grace in Grasse

After class a couple Fridays ago, Aude took a group of us to Grasse, a little nearby city that is one of the perfume capitals of the world.

AIFS sends out newsletters in English to our emails every week, and the translations are always kind of cute and amusing, but I thought that the way they described the Grasse trip was particularly endearing:

“Grasse is the world parfume capital, the city is world know for its flower culture. During this excursion, perfume won’t have any more secret for you. First we will visit the international perfume museum, a guide will explain us, the history of the perfume, from the antic time to now, then you will create your own perfume following a recipe. On the second part we will visit the fragonnard factory, where you will be able to see how they made perfume. After smelling all those fragrances, you will have free time to smell fresh air exploring the old town of Grasse on your own.”

So that’s a quick overview of what we did – we only spent a few hours there, but I got the impression that it’s the sort of city where all of the major points can be covered in an afternoon.

The bus ride was pretty quick, maybe a half hour or so. Nothing too exciting, save for the carousel we passed that boasted beautiful, classic horses and a solitary Pikachu.

As we parked by the Fragonnard, Aude told us that we were far up in the mountains, at about 1500 feet or so. A lot of people seemed pretty impressed – I guess I forget sometimes that living in the mountains at 3100 feet isn’t always normal? She also said that the air in Grasse was so much fresher than in Cannes, but I would have guessed the opposite. Maybe it was just because we tended to stick around the perfume-y parts of the city, but fresh isn’t necessarily the word I would have used to describe it. A bit too odor-y to really feel fresh, I suppose.

We started off at the museum, which was, of course, also very fragrant. Our guide was quite nice and spoke very good English save for the word “odor” which she tended to pronounce as “udder”, much to the amusement of some of the guys in the group.

We started off in this greenhouse room with a bunch of fragrant plants. Between the odors (or udders) and the heat, moving into a cooler room that merely contained countless perfume bottles was a welcome change!

So many bottles!
So many bottles!
These ones were shaped like little animals!
These ones were shaped like little animals!

She told us about some of the older perfume making techniques and how long and painstaking a process it was – the amount of work/flowers needed to create just a tiny amount was kind of staggering (unfortunately I don’t remember the exact figures). She also explained how people train their noses and study to become perfume makers – there are I believe 400 scents that they practice recognizing and retrieving to the point that they are able to compose complex scents in their imagination. And this is all after spending a few years studying chemistry at university. Turns out that there’s quite a science to smelling nice!

We then got to go to a little workshop where she gave us different scents on these little paper tester things, and we had to come up with different ways to describe the scent and come up with names for them. I learned that my trouble with titles extends to perfumes, coming up with such classics as “Sunny Yellow Garden” and “Mountain Fresh Nostalgia”. Suffice it to say, I don’t think that a career naming perfumes is in the cards for me!

After describing/naming 4 different scents, she gave us little recipes with 3 of the 4 smells to create our own perfumes to bring back with us. Mine is a mixture of lemon stuff, floral stuff, and musk stuff. Not to brag or anything, but it didn’t turn out awfully! We were supposed to name our scents, but I took pity on myself and others and skipped that step.

Our guide in the workshop/lab area
Our guide in the workshop/lab area

Then we headed over to the Fragonnard for a little tour around the factory. We got to see giant vats and tiny bottles and these things that looked like huge coffee filters and the place where they make soap eggs. It was pretty interesting, and of course it ended in their gift shop where they sell their perfumes at factory price. It was pretty tempting to take advantage of, especially after having spent the last couple hours hearing about the magic of perfume, but then I remembered how rarely I actually wear perfume and decided to refrain. Most girls left with at least a little bottle, though.

Perfume vat holder thing
Perfume vat holder thing

At that point we had about half an hour or so to wander around the city. Aude had told us that there was an old cathedral in town that we could find by following the main road, so Kailyn and I set off in search of it. We found the main road just fine and started heading down it, but somehow we missed the sign to turn somewhere and walked straight for what felt like far too long.

Quelle surprise.

Luckily we always knew where we were in relation to the bus, but we were nothing if not determined to find that church – we were not about to let it get the best of us! So we took a little side street and ended up at some sort of lookout point that boasted a rather nice view – not what we were looking for, but appreciated!

The little main road we managed to get semi-lost on
The little main road we managed to get semi-lost on
Looking out over Grasse
Looking out over Grasse

So we took another side street and ended up in a square with a bunch of guys playing soccer; this also did not seem right, and upon noticing that we were the only women there, we headed back to the main road pretty quickly.

Another side street and we found the gate to the Hôtel de Ville, which we thought was supposed to be by the church, but we didn’t see it and headed on.

Hôtel de Ville
Hôtel de Ville

Another street or two and a circle later, we somehow ended up back by the Hotel de Ville, only to find that had we walked to the right of the gate we were standing in front of, we’d have found not only the church, but another beautiful view as well!

The elusive church
The elusive church
Up in the mountains
Up in the mountains
Derrière l'église
Derrière l’église

Having solved The Mystery of the Hidden Church and taken our share of pictures, we headed back to the bus and made it just in time to collect a free sample vial of some jasmine perfume and head back to Cannes.