Paris au printemps // Paris in the springtime [Part 1]

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After 7 months in France I finally made it to Paris! I knew I couldn’t leave the country without at least one visit to the City of Light. Thus, I planned to head up to Paris with a few friends at the end of April. Our TAPIF contracts officially ended on April 30th. Many assistants began heading back home around the end of April and beginning of May. My friend Ted had a flight out of Paris back to the States early in May, so we packed up and headed to Paris for his last weekend in France.

In addition to this being my first time in Paris, it was also my first time on a TGV! High speed trains are amazing; especially after 7 months of slow, uncomfortable TER trains full of kids blasting music from their phones. Don’t get me wrong, the TER trains were great as well. Coming from Michigan where everything has been developed with the automobile in mind, reliable (to a point), convenient, easy, cheap public transit was a dream I never wanted to wake up from.

We took the train from Nice to Paris Gare de Lyon on Saturday April 30th. After our train pulled in, we hopped on the metro only to emerge to pouring rain. Finding our Airbnb in the rain wasn’t pleasant. Lugging suitcases up the spiral staircase to the third floor wasn’t much fun either, but we were in Paris; what else did we expect? Once we were in and settled we were able to enjoy the trip.

Our Airbnb was in Batignolles in the 17th, a quiet and bohemian neighborhood categorized by families and hipsters, according to the listing. We found this assessment to be true, and I would recommend this neighborhood to anyone looking for a place to stay in Paris. We were close to both Villiers and Rome Metro stops, which made for easy access to everywhere we wanted to go.

Having previously lived in Paris, Ted was relegated to tour guide status. I created a list of the places I wanted to go and Ted did his best to put together an itinerary that met my expectations. I do have to say, to my credit, I went into this trip with reasonable expectations. Between chats with friends who had lived in or visited Paris in the past, and countless searches on Pinterest, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted my first trip to Paris to unfold. Three and a half days in Paris isn’t much, but it is enough to see quite a bit if you know what is most important to you and if you’re willing to be flexible. Here is my original list of demands:

  • Eiffel Tower (day & night)
    • from Trocadero
    • up close
  • Musée du Louvre (from outside)
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Notre Dame
  • Ladurée
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Jardin des Tuileries
  • Les Invalides
  • Place Vendôme
  • Galeries Lafayette
  • Opéra Garnier
  • Grand Palais
  • Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Place de la Concorde
  • Place des Vosges
  • Night walk on the Seine or Canal St. Martin
  • Musée Carnavalet
  • Père – Lachaise
  • Moulin Rouge

In the end, we were able to do nearly everything, and Ted added several things to my initial list. The places we missed out on just gives me even more reason to visit Paris again, though do you really need a reason to visit Paris?

Have you been to Paris before or are you planning a trip there in the future? Stay tuned for Paris part 2!

Si on prenait un café 2/4/2016 // If we were having coffee 4/2/2016

This is my first foray into weekend coffee share. Here goes nothing!

If we were having coffee I would tell you about the things that have been weighing on my mind lately. I’d begin after offering you a cup of strongly brewed coffee and some chocolates of course.

I’m currently on vacation (again) and once we come back I’ll only have two weeks of teaching left before my TAPIF contract is up. Where has the time gone?! I think back on my first week, and my first month, in France quite often. Every time I reflect on that period of time it seems like an entire lifetime ago and a world away from where I am now.

While I’m excited to visit family and friends that I haven’t seen since last year, in no way am I ready to leave France. If I could go back to day one, and not change a thing, just to live it all over again, I would. Despite the difficulties and the ridiculousness that life in France can sometimes be, I have really come to enjoy living here. There is so much I’m going to miss when I leave, but we can save all of that for our next chat!

Une nuit à Chicago // One night in Chicago

Writing a blog post on a Megabus is uninspiring. All I want to do is complain about the loud conversations going on around me.

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Nearly 4 months later…The first line of this post was the entirety of the draft I had started for my VISA appointment at the beginning of September. For those of you interested in applying to TAPIF, and those of you reading who have already been accepted, you must go to the Consulat Général de France in order to apply for a VISA de longue séjour. Which French Consulate you go to depends on the region you live in. For myself, living in Michigan meant that I had to go to the consulate in Chicago. Furthermore, an appointment must be made online; walk-ins not welcome! Appointment slots fill up quickly so it is important to make one as soon as possible after being accepted and receiving your stamped arrêté de nomination. (Not that I received mine in time to bring it along with me).

Thankfully Chicago was as far as I had to go. Some assistants had a much longer trek to the “nearest” consulate that processes VISAs. My mother, sister, and I made a mini-vacation out of my appointment and left for Chicago the day before. We opted to take the Megabus to save money, which was an unfortunate mistake. The air conditioning broke in the bus not too long into the trip. It was a hot, sweaty nightmare. Once we finally arrived in Chicago, ditched the overheated bus for the cool comfort of a cab, and made it to our hotel, things began to turn around.

The lovely front desk manager at the Doubletree Hilton Magnificent Mile offered us fresh baked cookies and all was right in the world for a moment. After taking our bags up to our room and getting ready, we set out to do some shopping and find a place to eat dinner.

Our search took us to Rosebud, a delicious Italian restaurant that lived up to its Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews.

Upon my return to the hotel, I obsessively triple checked both my directions to the consulate and the documents in my dossier. I didn’t go all the way to Chicago on a scorching hot bus just to have my VISA application denied for being late or forgetting a necessary piece of paper.

The required documents for American assistants are:

Passport (must be valid for at least 10 months and have two blank VISA pages)

-You have to leave your passport at the consulate with the rest of your documents. If you live near the consulate you can elect to return to the consulate to pick up your passport once the VISA has been processed. If this isn’t feasible, you need an envelope (see below) to leave at the consulate so your passport can be mailed back to you. As stated on the website, it can take up to three weeks to receive your passport with VISA in the mail. Many assistants had theirs returned within a week or less. Mine came in the mail just over a week after my appointment.

Copy of the ID page in your passport

US passport style ID photo

Filled out application form

Filled out residence form

Copy of your appointment confirmation receipt

Self-addressed prepaid (stamped) USPS Express Mail envelope with tracking number

-A lovely assistant told me that she went to the post office right down the street from the Consulate in Chicago and the employee who helped her knew exactly what she needed. I picked up my envelope and postage before leaving Michigan with fingers crossed that I had gotten everything I needed.

(http://www.consulfrance-chicago.org/Long-stay-visa-for-lecteurs-and)

The VISA process itself was relatively painless. After checking in at the front desk, I made my way up to the Consulat Général. I have to admit I was a bit nervous. I had obviously read blog posts from previous assistants about people who didn’t hear their name being called and were told that they had to reschedule because they had ‘missed’ their appointment. I was already on a later timeline than most due to the fact that I was accepted off the waiting list so late in the summer. Rescheduling just wasn’t an option for me.

I quickly realized why there was so much concern regarding hearing your name being called. The waiting room was separated from the desks by two glass partitions. Furthermore the desks were behind a glass window with small speakers that allowed two extremely soft spoken women to quietly call out heavily accented names. At least there were several other assistants in the waiting room with me agonizing over what name had just been whispered through the speaker.

Once my name was finally called (I arrived approximately 30 minutes early thus there was a bit of waiting involved) the appointment went very quickly and easily. I was asked just a few questions, one of them being what day I was leaving for France, and another being what day I would arrive in France. I handed over all of my paperwork and once the woman helping me had looked through all of it, she gave me a receipt and I was on my way. There was even a girl at the window next to me who they allowed to leave, retake her id photo because it didn’t meet the requirements, and come back to finish the process. Obviously it is appreciated if you speak French throughout your appointment, but it is not required.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering the Magnificent Mile before boarding the Megabus and returning to Michigan to live out my remaining 27 days before France.

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Visite médicale à OFII// OFII appointment

Today I had my medical visit at OFII (Office Français de l’Immigration et l’Intégration). In all of the research I did before coming to France, I found many tales of the dreaded OFII appointment. Reading these tales made me nervous for the day I would finally have to go through the appointment myself. After sending in a ridiculous amount of paperwork and documents (and by sending in I mean bring them to the first orientation day and they will mail them in for you), you receive a letter telling you when your appointment is*. I read many dire warnings about the importance of making it to the appointment on time, not missing the appointment, and not trying to reschedule the appointment. In hindsight, these are all reasonable requests, but in the months leading up to my departure for France these warnings seemed ominous. Then the anecdotes arrived at the details of the actual appointment, culminating in the infamous chest x-ray which requires you to remove your shirt and bra and, judging by the accounts I read, parade around the exam room while the doctor just stares on.

Let me reassure you that this appointment was the most un-french thing that has happened since arriving in France – there were no problems at all! The appointment went smoothly, all of my paperwork had already been organized, stamped and reviewed by the staff, and every single person working in the office from the security guard at the door, to both nurses, the doctor, and finally the secretaries, were amazingly kind and friendly! This was the complete opposite of what I expected.

The process is as follows: The security guard calls you into the office from the hallway, you show your passport to the secretary at the front desk. You then proceed to a waiting room in the back of the office. There will likely be around twenty other people there with you, some of them being fellow assistants. Ask around to find out which assistants have the same appointment times as yourself – you can plan to travel there together. Once you are in the waiting room, groups of 4-5 people are called to proceed down to the other end of the hallway. One by one you will be called into the exam room to get the chest x-ray. Then you will be called in to see the nurse, who asked me if I had any questions about the secu (sécurité sociale) process/requirements. The nurse takes your height and weight, then you go back out into the hallway before going in to speak to the doctor. I had brought copies of my immunization records but didn’t end up needing them. The doctor asked a few medical history questions, said “everything is okay for me, just return to the first waiting room and you will be done.” You are then called into another office by a woman who places the sticker in your passport et voila ! You have the option to speak English or French. You are also provided with a changing room and a gown before getting the chest x-ray. Furthermore, the doctor took an interest in everyone she saw today, asking where we were working, how we liked the schools we were working in, and asking about our plans for the future.

The biggest downside to the appointment in my opinion was the location. It was a bit difficult to find and I had to take the unfortunate bus line 9. The 9 is one of the worst lines in Nice. Thus, all in all, my OFII appointment wasn’t half bad.

*Side note: I did not receive the convocation paperwork with the date and time of my appointment, as well as the documents you are expected to bring with you. These packets were mailed out to the schools and the secretary should have distributed them to the assistants. Before receiving an appointment date, you will receive a letter confirming reception of all of your dossier with a dossier number. If you hear of other assistants receiving notification of their appointment dates and you haven’t heard anything back, contact either OFII or the rectorate. I sent an email to the contact person for the alpes-maritimes assistants and she sent out a new copy of the paperwork for me, in addition to a pdf copy that she emailed to me.

Le jour de l’Armistice // Veterans Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day in France and Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the United States. As such, I decided to plan this week’s lessons for my classes around the holiday. I found two articles that did a good job of concisely explaining the history, what people do, and some of the symbols associated with the day.

Some students were shocked to find out that the majority of schools in the US do not close for Veterans Day. Yet at the same time, students in France (at least my students) don’t do anything to commemorate the holiday. When I got to the point in my lesson where I asked my students to tell me how people celebrate Armistice Day, one girl raised her hand only to say “We don’t.” While the day is a much more somber than celebratory holiday, it is completely normal, and almost expected, to hear and see people thanking our vets in the US. My Facebook news feed was full of posts about Veterans Day yesterday. When I told my students this they assured me that it was not the same for them.

This brings to mind two points. First, I often forget that I wasn’t so different from my students at one time. Don’t get me wrong; there are numerous, glaring differences between high school students in France and the US. But I am discovering that it is easy for me to forget what life was like when I was in high school. I don’t recall speaking about Veterans Day aside from what was discussed together as a class. Yet as I previously mentioned, many schools in the US remain open on Veterans Day, mine being one of them. In this sense, the day was much like a normal day. For my students, many of them spent the day shopping, watching movies, and visiting with friends; simply happy to have a day off school. The second point was brought up by one of my students. Americans are much more overtly patriotic than the French. Blatant and sometimes over the top displays of patriotism are the norm in the US. Seeing a lack of patriotism displayed on a national holiday such as Armistice Day is thus more shocking for an American than the occasional over the top display we have become accustomed to.

I believe it is also important to note that the American holiday is no longer directly comparable to the French holiday. Since Congress approved the change from “Armistice” to “Veterans” in 1954, November 11th has been a day to thank and honor all veterans serving in all branches of the military at any time. In France, Armistice Day remains a commemoration of the signing of the Armistice treaty that brought an end to World War I in 1918.

The last part of my lesson was a song activity. I searched for a song pertaining to the day and came across “The Green Fields of France.” I removed select words from the lyrics and had the students fill in the blanks while listening to the song in class. After listening to the original version and deciding that if I could hardly understand the lyrics through the Scotsman’s heavy accent there was no way my students would be able to, I found a more recent version recorded by Dropkick Murphys. I cannot even being to tell you how many times I have listened to this song over the last week. At this point, Dropkick Murphys have been playing in my head on a constant loop and coincidentally I’ve been reading a book about the IRA. I’m certain that if I moved to Boston tomorrow and posted up in a local pub I would feel right at home.

Qu’est-ce qui sont dans mes valises ? // What’s in my suitcases ? [Part 2]

Buckle up folks, this is a long one.

What I brought with me:

  • first aid kit / cold & flu & allergy medicine
  • 8 month supply of: contacts, contact solution, deodorant, mascara, eyeliner, moisturizer, face wash, hair ties
    • For future TAPIFers I suggest bringing enough of any products you are very particular about to last the entire time you will be in France. I’m not picky when it comes to hair products or soap/body wash but there are a couple of products that I refuse to stray from my brand of choice when it comes down to it. I can’t live without my Old Spice deodorant, CoverGirl Lashblast Mascara, St. Ives face wash, and Clean n’ Clear moisturizer.
    • Despite the fact that contact solution will take up a decent amount of space in your bags I believe it’s worth packing. In France it can only be bought in optometry shops. While there are no shortage of these in Nice, you may have a hard time finding one in some areas. Furthermore the price of contact solution here is just asinine. Save yourself the trouble by bringing enough with you.
  • 5 belts
  • 7 headbands
  • 5 scarves
  • 2 hats
  • 3 bathing suits
  • 7 pairs of pants (3 black, 3 blue jeans, 1 olive green)
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 4 skirts
  • 3 pairs of tights
  • 2 pairs of sweatpants
  • 3 pairs of yoga pants
  • 7 pairs of gym shorts
  • 7 gym shirts
  • 2 pajama shirts
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 13 dresses
  • 2 blazers
  • 9 sweaters and cardigans
  • 20 shirts and tank tops
  • more socks, bras, and underwear than I can even begin to count
  • 4 pairs of boots (1 tall black, 1 mid height brown, 1 black ankle, 1 taupe ankle)
  • 2 pairs of tennis shoes
  • 3 pairs of sandals (1 black, 1 brown, 1 grey)
  • laundry bag
  • re-usable grocery bag
  • perfume
  • Michigan flag #GoBlue

What’s in my carry-on:

As I mentioned, I had two carry-on bags; one suitcase and one large purse. The suitcase stayed locked in the overhead compartment while I kept the purse with me throughout the entirety of my flight.

Suitcase:

  • 2 weeks’ worth of clothing
  • 1 pair of tall boots
  • 2 pairs of sandals
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • travel sized toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, perfume, lotion, body wash, face wash, toothpaste, contact solution)
  • nail polish / nail file & clippers / tweezers / nail polish remover wipes*
  • makeup
  • q-tips
  • razors
  • relia for teaching
  • raincoat
  • jewelry
  • planner / notebooks / pens / stationary
  • copies of important documents
  • outlet adapter / surge protector
  • backpack
  • 2 purses (1 grey, 1 black)
  • extra phone chargers

*My sister bought me a box of OPI nail polish remover wipes and it is one of the best and most useful gifts I have received. The wipes work extremely well and smell amazing. I can use one wipe for both hands and both feet.

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Purse:

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All the best things can be found at Target
  • laptop & charger
  • outlet adapter
  • phone & charger & portable battery
  • Kindle
  • USB with copies of important documents on it
  • photo album (my amazing friends gave me a going away party and had everyone bring pictures to put in an album for me to bring with me !)
  • snacks (almonds, granola bars)
  • re-usable water bottle*
  • wallet
  • passport
  • headphones
  • face wipes
  • moisturizer
  • mascara / eyeliner
  • chapstick
  • sunglasses
  • hairbrush
  • toothbrush / toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • ibuprofen
  • eye mask

*I have an inexplicable obsession with mugs, cups, and water bottles. Enough cupboard space is not a thing that exists in my life. Choosing just one to bring with me was difficult to say the least. I brought my Tupperware Eco bottle. While I use the largest bottle, it comes in multiple sizes. The best part about this bottle is that it never spills or leaks in my bag.

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Yes, I seriously fit all of this into one 28-inch suitcase, one 21-inch suitcase, and a large purse. Packing cubes and vacuum bags are pure magic. Knowing you have to pack 8 months’ worth of life into just a couple of suitcases is a pretty good motivator to become an expert packer as well. Check out my Pinterest account for more packing tips and advice: https://www.pinterest.com/alybove/moving-to-france/

What I haven’t used:

There actually isn’t much that I brought with me that I haven’t used. I probably did not need to bring three different bathing suits, but I have spent a decent amount of time at the beach since I got here! The South of France has its perks. I’m known for being a notorious over-packer so the fact that I’ve actually needed everything I brought with me is amazing.

I haven’t worn every item of clothing I brought with me yet, but envision myself wearing everything multiple times. I enjoy having options. I vividly recall the one time I tried packing light for a vacation to Florida. It was a nightmare.

I feel the need to note that while I’ve used my re-usable grocery bag, it was absolutely unnecessary for me to bring with me. I’ve already purchased about ten more. France is all about the re-usable bags, which actually makes perfect sense. Except when you’ve forgotten your bag for the hundredth time. Hence my growing collection.

What I wish I would have brought:

More comfy clothes. I brought two pairs of sweatpants, a sweatshirt and plenty of workout clothes (which is basically what I live my life in when I’m not at work) but I wish I had a few more sweatshirts. There’s nothing like coming home after a long day and putting on a pair of sweats.

More nail polish. I. Am. Obsessed. I was very proud of myself for managing to bring so few. I regret this decision on a weekly basis.

More gifts for the teachers I work with. My coworkers have been nothing short of amazing and I can’t thank them enough. I might have to start baking American treats for them – my go-to expression of gratitude.

What I bought when I got here:

Work / school supplies: scissors, folders, markers, paper clips, dry erase markers, and tape. I considered bringing some of these items with me since I already had more than enough at home, but could not justify the space in my suitcases knowing that I could easily buy these items in France.

I fully intend on buying another suitcase or duffel bag before I fly back to the States, and checking an extra bag during the return trip. I’m certain I’ll have enough souvenirs to fill an entire bag. At the same time I don’t envision everything I brought with me making the return trip. 8 months of heavy walking will surely wear out some of the shoes I brought with me, right?

Le bon, le mauvais, et le pire // The good, the bad, and the ugly

This post is a work in progress, comprised of my random experiences and observations throughout day to day life in France.

The Good

Herbs de Provence

Olives

The best Greek yogurt I’ve ever eaten

Pain au chocolate

Warm baguettes

Muesli

(Are we noticing a theme here…)

300+ days of sunshine per year

Reliable public transportation

The Bad

French keyboards. I don’t think I’ll ever stop mixing up the q, a, w and z keys. And while we’re at it, why on earth would you force a person to press shift in order to use a period? The period is one of the most commonly used forms of punctuation!!

Road rage. You think it’s bad in Michigan? Come to France. This is coming from someone who is quite fond of laying on the horn.

Slow walkers

Old slow walkers with old slow walking dogs commandeering the entire sidewalk

The Ugly

Mystery water dripping off of buildings onto my face

Dog poop everywhere

Dog pee everywhere

Bonus Category: The Bizarre

Colored toilet paper

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Grey. Blue. Pink. So weird.

Découvrir la ville de Nice: Parc de la Colline du Chateau // Discovering Nice: Castle Hill Park

While little remains of the 12th century castle (which was destroyed in 1706 at the behest of King Louis XIV), the hill offers spectacular views of the coast, the Baie des Anges, the Old Town, and the port. The very first image I saw of Nice, upon discovering which académie I had been placed in, was a shot of the coast taken from la Colline du Chateau. You have probably seen several versions of this image as well. Everyone who visits Nice has taken one, and for good reason! I knew I needed to take one of my own so one Saturday in early October I set off to climb the hill.

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There is an elevator that will take you up to the top of the park, but if you can make the hike it is definitely worth the fairly minimal effort. There are several areas to stop and rest if necessary, as well as a few cafés along the way.

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The park also boasts a waterfall and a cemetery. I recommend making the trip on a clear, sunny day in order to experience the best views. Entrance to the park is free though so you can go back as many times as you like without feeling like you have only one chance to make it perfect.

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The Jewish Cemetery is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.

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Allez les Bleus // Go Blue

Today’s post is about something very near and dear to my heart; my favorite team in all the land. The Michigan Wolverines ! Those of you who know me understand just how much it is killing me to be missing out on attending Michigan home games. Especially considering the fact that it is Harbaugh’s first season and we have been performing better than anyone could have imagined after the last seven years. The dark days were difficult but there was a light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Jim Harbaugh and we made it through.

Every Saturday when a flatmate or fellow assistant asks me what my plans are I respond by simply stating that I have a football game to watch. But it’s so much more than that. One of the most difficult parts of being a season ticket holder for a team half way around the world is not having anyone nearby to celebrate or commiserate with before, during, and after the games. It is also incredibly difficult to see everyone’s posts on social media about going to the game each week. There’s a hole in my heart, a piece of me that’s missing, and it can be found in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At this point some of you are probably thinking “is she serious?” Yes. Yes I am.

There is an Alumni Association Group in Paris that gets together each week to watch the game and I’ve decided to splurge on a trip to Paris for the Ohio State game. For now I’ll continue to represent alone in my room. Forever Go Blue

Hail to the Victors
Hail to the Victors

Les vacances de Toussaint // Toussaint vacation

After just one short week of teaching, myself and my fellow assistants were unleashed onto France for a two week vacation. Toussaint is a Catholic celebration of ‘All Saints Day’ on November 1st.  I know what you’re thinking. Two week vacation? You hadn’t even been there for a month! It’s crazy. There really wasn’t any time to get into a rhythm with my classes. There are three classes I was fortunate enough to observe my first week in France but most classes I had seen only once. I was certain it would be like starting all over again on November 2nd when we returned from the break.

Vacations are a time for exploration and adventure. While I spent the majority of my first week of the break furiously searching for and viewing apartments, I was able to break away for a day with some fellow assistants and visit the nearby Èze Village.

Eze Village

Èze is the quintessential France I had been looking forward to since the day I decided to apply to TAPIF – steep, narrow cobblestone paths winding through a picturesque hilltop village.

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Much to our dismay you have to pay to view the gardens and gain access to the best views, but this did not discourage us from enjoying our time there. A word of advice: two or three hours is more than enough time to spend in Èze and leave not feeling as though you’ve missed out on something. Unless of course you wish to pass lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants located in the village. We ended up leaving Nice much later in the afternoon than originally planned which worked out in our favor.

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During the second week of the break, a group of assistants and I went to explore Parc du Mont Boron (Mount Boron Park).

Mont Boron

Overlooking Villefranche-sur-Mer, Mont Boron is just a short bus ride from the port area in Nice. The views of the Mediterranean from the bus were stunning.

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After making our way along trails winding throughout the park, we came to a look-out with beautiful views of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

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From here we made our way to Fort du Mont Alban where we met up with several other assistants to enjoy the remaining late afternoon sun.

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Switching gears, I’ve found a new apartment and will be moving in next week. They say hindsight is 20/20 and my experience with housing in France has certainly proven that statement to be true. Looking back there are a few things I would do differently in conducting my search for housing, but what is done is done. Hopefully my mistakes can serve as a lesson not only for myself but for others participating in this program in the future. I plan to dedicate an entire blog post to finding and securing housing in Nice where I will give more details on my experience.