Wednesday, July 19, 2017

3.0 Tournus

As I'm writing this on my phone while sitting on a charmingly rustic balcony of my future Course 3 professor's château, I feel a little bit like a cheater. There's this wonderful view of a green countryside spread in front of me, and yet I'm taking breaks to stare face down on my digital screen and type up some thoughts. I think I'd prefer reading from my Agatha Christie book and enjoying the tranquility, but I don't want to wake up the guy sleeping downstairs right next to my backpack if I noisily ruffle through clothes and whatever else is stuffed in my book bag to inevitably find what I'm searching for last.

Also I was going to write about Paris and Lyon since those happened first, but I figure since I'm here I'll just write in the moment.

Old picture of old castle.

BACKSTORY: When I was still a freshman (now I've upgraded to rising sophomore I guess) I declared Course 3. Almost immediately, I heard rumors of a Course 3 professor having a French castle and inviting his students to stay in the castle during the summer. Somehow, I managed to get my name on the excel sheet in the Course 3 fb group and now I'm in Tournus, France with a couple of other Course 3 students.

[Sad. I can't add pictures with this blogger app. All the reviews were right.]

[Hmmmm... I'll probably just post this later with pictures. Blogs without pictures for me are just a bunch of words. I don't think I have the literary talent to make my words interesting enough alone.]

Back in the train station in Lyon, my friend A. ('20) asked me who the person I was looking for looked like. I responded no clue, but I had her profile pic on fb messenger. This gives you a sense of how much I did not know these Course 3 people at all.

Homemade rosemary ice cream.
But, they turned out to be pretty cool. Would I even say otherwise since I'm going to send this blog to them? Probably not, but in that case I wouldn't mention them at all. So these people were cool. Like I could imagine being in that Course 3 "frat" and hanging out and struggling through sophomore year with them or looking to upperclassmen for their wisdom.

The Course 3 professor was also the nicest host. Professor Carter treated us to a quaint, local French restaurant called Cassandre: La Table de Chapaize. I stress the "French" part because it seems that in Southern France near Italy, all the restaurants are Italian. That's not a bad thing: authentic Italian pizza, pasta, bread, and gelato are quite delicious. However, I was excited to try actual French cuisine in France. A true four course meal, paired with kir and red and white wine (for those over 21). Everything was fantastic, both taste and presentation-wise -- it was one of the most enjoyable meals I've probably ever had in my life.

The next day, we snacked on boulangerie bread spread with raspberry jam and a light, creamy cake for breakfast. Afterwards, the professor took us to the flea market on our way to sight-seeing in a small town with a stone church and amazing view. We bought local, historical trinkets like hundred-year-old postcards, aluminum absinthe spoons, and silver candlestick holders.

I should mention that in quiet, small, countryside towns, you need cars to travel. As there were nine students, someone else besides the professor had to drive; not only drive a stick shift, but also have the honor to drive a truly "grungy" old white van that was only the slightest bit sketchy. I will mention that the person driving the van (apparently also known as Mum) had incredible skills.

["Nature prefers low enthalpy at low temperatures and high entropy at high temperatures." Just the typical conversation that occurs between Course 3 MIT professors, students, and graduates.]

Everything about the French countryside is charming. Peaceful and tranquil. Beautiful.
It was quite the shock when I arrived coming from Paris, with its busy streets, constant stream of cars and people chattering, endless succession of opulent buildings and towers and museums.

Pregnant donkey.
The moment I arrived at the château in Tournus, I listened. Birds chattered. Wasps buzzed. I marveled at the silence of nature.

The scenery is rolling green fields, patches of white cows, golden squares from neatly arranged rows of wheat and corn crops. Instead of golden-tipped obelisks, there's richly green trees towering the roads.

In fact, I am extremely glad that I came to visit. Though I was quite tired from the (mis)adventures of the Paris fireworks of the night before, the quiet serenity of the countryside seemed to possess natural healing and restorative abilities. Although Professor Carter half-jokes (probably actually serious) that he will make our lives quite miserable in class, he seems to truly care about teaching.

Before this week, I told E. ('17) that I entirely don't feel like a Course 3 because I hadn't taken a single Course 3 class, not even 3.091, and somehow I'm going to spend two nights in a Course 3 professor's castle. She replied laughingly that I already sounded like a Course 3: the trick was to mention "Course 3" as much as possible.

In the end, I can't really tell if I chose the right major quite yet considering I haven't taken any classes. But I am at least more confident in the community. And whatever nightmares or terrors I hear from upperclassmen who tell the tales about sophomore year, at least I feel that these *miserable* classes will create tight and lasting friendships.

P.S. I'm too lazy to write down everything that happened, plus I don't really want to interrupt the natural flow of writing I've got, but it would be amiss to not include the following conversation that happened during our sight-seeing. We asked a man to take a group photo of us:

Man: *holds phone* "SEX!"
Course 3 people: *confusion*
Man: "Funny!"
Course 3 people: *laugh awkwardly* *smile uncomfortably*


"Maybe he only knew enough English to sound kind of creepy."
"No, sex still means sex in French."
"That was weird."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lunch in Lyon

Right now, I'm writing this while sitting on a five hour train ride to Paris Bercy. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to buy a round trip ticket, so to my surprise all the trains to Paris Gare Lyon were full. My hopes of looking around Le Louvre or the catacombs before my flight today dashed, I resigned to reading my detective novel with at least the countryside scenery outside the window to comfort me.

I accept that my pictures will never be as aesthetically pleasing as Effie's.

Backtrack to Saturday morning.

After waking up at about 6:30am in X.'s ('19) apartment, I showered, dressed, and headed out to the bus stop outside. It was a chilly early morning, and since I wanted my wet towel to dry, I wrapped it around my arms to block the cold wind. I wished for probably the fiftieth time that I had brought my MIT sweater but counted myself lucky that I was not ill.

A decorated clock in a church.
Speaking of luck, the bus arrived with only five minutes of waiting, and I was at the train station in half an hour's time. My first dilemma faced me at the ticket-buying machine. If I wanted to leave for Lyon at 9am and meet up with my friend for lunch, I'd have to spend €100, which is roughly the cost of the flight from Nice to Paris. However, there was a later option at 10am, which would save me €20. Which should I choose?

I pondered the situation for roughly 30 seconds and went for the first option, since I figured seeing my friend was worth a few euros. Thus, after buying a direct ticket to Lyon, I hiked out of the train station to find a boulangerie for breakfast.

After returning to the station slightly less exhausted (the wonders a warm apple tart can do), I slept on the 2 hour train ride to Lyon Part Dieux and met my friend in the station. With a few more hours of sleep in me and the excitement of being in a new city, I was ready for another adventure before my departure for T--.

I'd add the actual profile pic I took of my friend, 
but apparently the shadow is unsatisfactory.
Lyon is actually the second biggest city in France, surprising since it doesn't seem to possess the natural charm of a French ville like Nice or Paris. Perhaps this first impression isn't accurate, since my friend assures me that he loves Lyon and believes that the city is greatly underrated. In any case, we had two hours to explore and eat lunch before I needed to be back at the station to catch the train.

We took the metro to the river and walked to the old part of Lyon from there. The river was quite beautiful, and old Lyon had the narrow cobblestone streets that I recognized as a trademark of France in all the cities I've traveled to, lined with small local shops and restaurants.

Yummy tripe! It's not fish, but it's delicious.
My friend guided me to a restaurant that looked almost packed although it had just opened. Real French cuisine, three courses for only €15. It was a gem of a place. For an appetizer, I ate a poached egg in a soup of vinegar, bacon, and mushrooms. Then the main dish consisted of tender strips of tripe, which was quite the novelty. Finally, I finished the meal with dessert: a tarte tatin and homemade ice cream. All the while, I shared an enjoyable conversation with my friend, so lunch was lovely.

Unfortunately, we had to rush back to catch the train at 2pm. I missed it. Fortunately, I can't understand emails, so while I thought there was a train at 2pm, I only needed to be in Lyon at this time. The next train to T-- was at 3:15pm, so my friend and I just continued talking while sitting nearby a fountain in a rather large mall by the station.
A beautiful river and a beautiful bridge.

Finally, it was time for me to actually go, so we somehow found the other Course 3 people in the train station even though I had no idea what these people looked like. After confirming that the other half of the group was dismally stranded on a bus with a cluelessly lost driver, we headed on the train for our departure to T--.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Snapshots from Belgium

I've mainly been in two places in Belgium: Louvain-la-Neuve (the location of my internship) and Brussels.

Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN) is a planned city, meaning that the purpose of its construction was to house the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL). As a result, the design is very much intentional, and LLN has an ever-present "college town" vibe to it. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, university buildings, dorms (known as kots in Belgium), and also a lake and a park. Everything is walkable; I haven't walked more than 15 minutes to get to anything in town. 

Some wood structures made by architecture/civil engineering students at UCL

A family of geese at the lake!
Since starting work, I've realized that it's really difficult for me to just sit and stare at a screen all day. So, as a way to keep myself more engaged, I usually alternate between 3D-modeling on my laptop and sketching in my notebook. Some results:

As for Brussels, it's less than an hour away by train (the train system is great!). I've been a couple times now—with different people, seeing different things:

Mont des Arts

Grand Place

CityTree: a green initiative by Green City Solutions. It is a 13-foot wall of specific moss cultures and apparently has the "same effect as up to 275 urban trees." 
Visited the Atomium and Brosella (jazz festival)
So, even though LLN and Brussels are great places, I think my favorite part of it all is just riding the train and traveling between cities. The entire landscape is green—the trees are overgrown and plenty, sprawling their way onto train stations and over walls. It's pretty amazing.

If you want to see what else I'm up to, you can find me here:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hanging Out with Coworkers Part Deux

(In case you're wondering, Nice was Part Un).

For people who know me, I'm writing this waiting for my hair to dry so I can sleep.

This past Saturday, I rode the train to Eze with two of my coworkers and my roommate J. ('20). The two coworkers, MC and VC, are two first year master students from an engineering school in Paris. They're at ParisTech as "stagiares" or interns, like us. They only arrived a week before us, and we all work in the same huge office that consists of four rooms separated by half-walls.

At first, when I arrived at ParisTech and heard that J. ('20) and I were the only undergrads, I thought that maybe the age gap would be too wide to hang out with our fellow coworkers. Wrong! There's that stereotype that guys are less mature than girls, which I think may hold some truth at least in this situation. I mean, I don't see any of the girl master students randomly playing ping pong on the floor in our office (since for some reason we have ping pong balls and paddles but no table). So hanging out with these grad students didn't feel weird at all.

MC always complains that VC is playing games all day during the weekend, so MC has nobody to go out and have fun with (they're roommates). So he tagged along with J. ('20) and me this weekend, and we extended the invitation to VC. Frankly, I thought he was going to decline from all the times I've heard MC complain about VC's addiction to video games, but he said he would join us in Eze, so score!

This is the blog post where I give up trying to do fancy formatting because it changes after you publish.

We arrived at the Eze train station around noon, but we still had to take a bus to the Eze village. My first impressions of the mountain village was a watered-down, less rich version of Monaco. That is not to say that I had a bad impression of Eze. Quite the contrary, it was on the opposite spectrum of cool tourist places: the quaint, peaceful village with the beautiful ocean and mountain scenery resting in the background, periodically interrupted by the zoom of a Ferrari, presumably from the neighboring wealthy city-state.

A historic church in the style of the baroque period, if I remember what I read from the sign correctly.

The first thing we did was hike up a small distance from the bus stop to the succulent garden at the top of the tiny mountain. It was a warm day, and with the sun shining full force, it was almost kind of hot. However, the approach to the top was simple and direct, nothing like the confusing staircases in Monaco, so the journey was pleasant and the succulents exotic.

Such cool cacti.
After reaching the top, with the most beautiful, rewarding view in front of us, MC declared he had to take pictures for his snapchat and facebook. Conversation that followed:

MC: "Why don't you get an iphone? The camera is better!"
Me: *shows him my camera on my android*
MC: "Oh. Can you take a picture of me?"

I somehow become his photographer during this trip.

Afterwards, J. (20') and I hit the tourist shops that are carved from small enclaves in the rock mountain. They're not the cookie-cutter shops that sell all the same things like Ferrari jackets or Formula One hats. Instead, inside each store there's something unique, whether the products are rubidium crystals or alternative fish paintings or sparkling ruby hairpieces. The guys mostly stayed outside while we looked around, since apparently it's a "girl thing" to go shopping. They missed out.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the stores, so here's another pretty view.
After a late lunch, we visited the Fragonard perfume factory. It was free entry, and I was really excited to see a factory with condensation glasses and evaporation techniques. Did I care about the perfume? Not at all. I don't even wear perfume. I just wanted to see the chemistry and the machinery.

So worth it!!!
I ended up falling for the tourist trap and buying a royal jelly cream for my mom, so the "free entry" actually cost me 25 euros. But it was worth it, since the whole interior of the admittedly small factory was packed with citrus and floral scents and fragrances. Plus, my mom would be happy that I bought her a gift. And what do you know? MC and VC both bought products for themselves. So I guess you don't have to be a girl to like buying things.

Afterwards, we headed to the beach to wait for our train, since the train station was only about a five minute walk away. For some reason, I was the only one wearing shorts, so I kicked off my shoes and waded in the water. It continues to amaze me how clear the water is at the Cote d'Azur. You can see small fish swimming in the distance, and look down at the rounded rocks and pebbles littering the sea floor.

Likewise, MC rolled up his jeans and stepped in the sea. He stooped down to pick up a circular, flat rock, and skipped the stone rather impressively three times. Then, VC, staying on the shores of the rocky beach, immediately outdid him by skipping a stone that bounced five times in the water. They both taught me their tricks, and I was able to skip a stone twice! New skill to work on.

Finally, around seven in the evening, our group of four headed home. Except while MC and VC stayed on the train to actually head home, J. (20') and I got off at Antibes to eat dinner and gelato and buy cactus juice.

Do people usually leave scales on the salmon? I ate it all, but it was a little bit weird. Still yummy!
Thus concludes our adventure in Eze. If there's one lesson I've learned while in MISTI, it's that coworkers are pretty cool to hang out with. And guess what? I'm going to hang out with another coworker next weekend. And who else? Hint: one of the sassiest people in LMF who shares my love for Cardcaptor Sakura. Next time: Paris!