The leaves in the trees are changing, and with them is my Parisien life. The IES Paris French Studies program started on Tuesday, and it has been quite a week. It was a bit of a slow start, as the first two days were pretty focused on shoving important logistical and bureaucratic information into our heads while we sat and listened. It was a strange change because after the independence I savored for the last two weeks, it felt as if my hand was being held quite firmly. They tried to make Paris seem much scarier than it is in my experience, to keep us safe, but provided plenty of good information. The staff is great. One thing that was shocking was the manner of presentation. After two months at Tawonga, constantly thinking about group dynamics and encouraging lasting relationships, it was strange to see there was nearly no bonding games or even name games. I guess they expected us to not need facilitation, which we didn't, but it still wasn't idea. On that note, it has been great to have made so many new friends. We went to Normandy to see some museums and cemeteries and the beach where a very decisive WW2 battle was fought. The trip had a lot of bus time and more for getting to know each other. I never need to dine or wander alone again which is great. It is also nice having Americans to practice French with because there is less pressure, and helps build confidence. Additionally, everyone has some vocab or grammar advice to share. After this week, I am so glad I took my two week course, it has helped immensely, as I feel good speaking and many are impressed to hear I have studied French for just two years.
With new friends, I have been checking out some of Paris' nightlife. Last night I ate an incredible steak, and tonight we went to some bars in Bastille, which was lots of fun. Being able to drink legally hasn't felt like that monumental of a change, but going out to bars is a totally new experience that is both thrilling and scary. Mostly, it is a lot of fun though. Also lots of fun, on a totally different note, is the biking I have been doing. Today, I ventured pretty far. I started at Bois de Bologne and did the Longchamps circuit for an hour, getting my sufferfest on with some guys including a rider who I'm pretty sure is ex-Europcar (that is a pro-cycling team for you non-fans). Then I crossed over the bridge of the Seine and somehow made my way to Versaille. I've been before, but didn't remember much of it. Versaille is amazing. There is a huge town that is beautiful and vibrant, and the palace itself is immense. I was able to ride for many kilometers just around the grounds, through vineyards and trees, even on cobblestones. Cobblestones are really hard. I feel for classics riders now. After I explored, I headed out but couldn't exactly find how I came in. I went from town to town, seeing on the map at the beginning of each town that I was going mostly the right direction until surprise, I made it home. It was a great adventure and ride, and validation of my vague sense of direction.
On another biking note, all my normal biking food such as powerbars, GU and sports drink are super expensive here so I am learning to use alternatives. Today I bought a grainy bread (still super cheap and DELICIOUS) and made a Nutella, Banana, Salt and Peanut Butter Sandwich. Natural, and it covers all the important food groups for working out. And way better than a powerbar. So I'm stoked on that. They also don't eat peanut butter here in France, but I found it easily at a big supermarket. It was in the exotic foods aisle, with sushi ingredients. Shocker.