Viajando alrededor del sur de Francia/ Traveling around the south of France


El siguiente blog trata sobre un periodo de aproximadamente diez días a finales de marzo y principios de abril llamados Semana Santa. Es una semana muy importante porque los Latinos y muchos cristianos nos pasamos mucho tiempo durante esta semana celebrando la muerte y resurrección de Cristo. Yo originalmente tenía pensado quedarme aquí en Madrid pero al llegar al programa me indicaron que se requiere que los estudiantes dejen su alojamiento durante la semana. Entonces pues a buscar que hacer durante Semana Santa. 

Sabía que tenía dos primos aquí en Europa que estaban estudiando en Francia y pues esto me daba una buena oportunidad de poder conocer por lo menos uno de ellos. Lo bueno de ser mexicano es que tenemos familia por doquier y aunque no sea un familiar de la forma más directa, somos familia. Tengo varios recuerdos de cuando llegaba a alguna fiesta o reunión familiar y mi mamá o papá me señalaba a un señor o señora que no conocía y me decían: “saluda a tu tía” o “tu primo”. A final de cuentas se encuentra familia hasta en los parientes más lejanos en México.

(Haz click en las fotos para verlas en grande/ Click on photos below to enlarge them)

Entonces al empezar la Semana Santa abordé mi vuelo del aeropuerto Barajas aquí en Madrid hacía el aeropuerto Toulouse-Blagnac en el sur de Francia. El vuelo fue de aproximadamente una hora y me dieron cacahuates abordo. Bueno, pues llegué a Toulouse y entre que comprendía como funcionaba el tram y por fin llegué a la estación indicada, por fin conocí a Miguel. Miguel, gracias a Dios, es un chavo criado a la mexicana. Es súper buena onda, paciente, trabajador, entre muchas otras cosas. Lo bueno de ser mexicano es que donde cabe uno, caben dos; todos somos familia y todos somos buena onda. La verdad es que ya no queda escribir mucho más — el sur de Francia es hermoso y mi primo me cayó muy bien. 


The following blog is about a period of about ten days in late March through early April called Holy Week. It is a very important week because Latinos and many Christians spend a lot of time during this week celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ. I had originally planned to stay here in Madrid but when I arrived at the official program they indicated that this would not be the case. They required students to leave their housing accommodation during the week. So I had to look for something to do during Holy Week.

I knew that I had two cousins ​​here in Europe studying in France and this gave me a good opportunity to get to know at least one of them. The good thing about being Mexican is that we have family everywhere even if it is not a family member in the most direct way we are all family. I have several memories of me arriving to a party or family reunion and my mom or dad pointing me to a man or lady I did not know and saying: “greet your aunt” or “your cousin”. At the end of the day family is found even in the most distant relatives in Mexico.

(Click on photos below to enlarge them / Haz click en las fotos para verlas en grande)

At the start of Holy Week I boarded my flight from Barajas airport here in Madrid to Toulouse-Blagnac airport in the south of France. The flight was about an hour and I was given peanuts on board. I arrived in Toulouse and after figuring out how the tram worked I finally arrived at the station where I was going to meet my cousin, Miguel. Miguel, praise be to God, is a guy who is very Mexican. He is super cool, patient and hard working, among many other things. The good thing about being Mexican is that no matter what, we are all family, and we all have good vibes. There is not much more to write other than that the south of France is beautiful and meeting my cousin was a great experience.


Big Hope 2: Day 5

After four days at the Big Hope 2, it is still hard at times to believe that there are students from 40 different countries here. We have done a lot of listening and learning through the seminars and discussions, but today was our day to finally get a bit of a break as we went on a variety of day trips. Along with about 10 other students from Hope College, I went to the quaint town of Chester, and old Roman barracks. So yes, the walls surrounding the city were built about 2,000 years ago, though they were later rebuilt and strengthened after the English Civil War in the 17th Century. We walked along these walls to get to (what was left of) the Roman Gardens and amphitheater. the walls leading over part of downtown Chester.

The walls leading over part of downtown Chester. The wide roads were almost exclusively for pedestrians, and downtown, the first floors of all buildings were filled with shops while the upper floors are residential.

        My favorite building that we visited was the Chester Chapel. It is a massive structure filled with discreetly located chambers, mysterious staircases we weren’t allowed to investigate, an actual garden in the center of the chapel, and on this day, a slew of antsy schoolchildren preparing for the Chester Mystery Plays – a huge festival put on by professionals in the area as a cultural celebration.

        The greatest moment of the day was eating lunch by the docks on the River Dee. There we encountered a grey-bearded man fully adorned with a leather jacket, and artfully wielding an accordion. A couple of girls from our group began chatting with him and he soon opened up to us and talked about some of his experiences, which included him learning to play the harp in South America. As we selfishly deprived the locals also catching lunch of  their entertainment, he finally asked if any of us played musical instruments. Between the seven of us we had one saxophone and one viola player. “Ah,” he responded thoughtfully, “no young people play music anymore.”

        As some of us were meandering our way back to the bus, we found a local couple with a corgi – ok fine, we found Colin the Corgi and then noticed the couple. Anyway, we started talking to the couple about Chester, the World Cup, and how we ended up in England. It turned out that the guy had gone to Liverpool Hope, the university who is hosting us, and they were incredibly open and friendly. Like most of the British we have come across in the region, they made the extra effort to ask us questions and make us feel welcomed. I think I speak for us all by stating that this conference has taught us a lot, but the people we have been surrounded by are truly what have opened us up to fully take in all that the Big Hope 2 has to offer.


By Caleb Miller

French Soccer, Versailles, and the Louvre!

With the World Cup kicking off this weekend, my study abroad friends and I bought tickets to the World Cup send-off game of France vs. Ireland at the Stade de France. As an avid soccer fan, I was super excited to see one of my favorite national teams (France, of course!) take on Ireland. European soccer games are an exciting experience in itself. Fans were singing soccer fight songs throughout the metro rides, and the crowd at the game was even more rowdy. The French fans sang the national fight song throughout the entire game, successfully drowning out the attempts of the Irish fans trying to sing. My favorite part of the night was that we took a baguette into the game and used it to cheer with (yes, you read that correctly).  France defeated Ireland 2-0, and closed with a small World Cup send-off ceremony. We did get caught in a massive flash-flood on the way out of the game, which now we look back on and laugh about; mainly due to the fact that I ran barefoot because I love my Birkenstocks too much to see them get ruined!

***Bonus points if you can spot the baguette in this photo

Later in the week for marketing class, our IES program took us to the Palace of Versailles. The palace itself is massive and covered in extravagant gold. The inside houses hundreds of famous artworks, and of course the famous Hall of Mirrors. After touring the palace, we explored the backyard gardens. The gardens cover over one mile, including sculptures, fountains, and a hedge maze. At the back of the hedge maze, I found a small café hidden in the garden. This was one of my favorite places to eat, as it was very serene and peaceful.


On the weekend, I decided to take on the true challenge of Paris: tackling the Louvre. The Louvre has over 35,000 pieces of art and several floors. I started very early in the morning and followed a plan to see the artworks I was most excited about. My favorites included the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Egypt exhibits. I explored the Louvre from opening to closing time, and saw everything I planned and more! I absolutely loved the Louvre, as there were so many timeless pieces of art history.


A few hours in, I found my absolute favorite piece of art. I stumbled across it on accident, and fell in love with the intricate detail. I also thought it was funny that this painting is actually a painting of other famous paintings. The piece is called Gallery Views of Modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini (attached below). The room this painting hangs in was completely empty, so I was able to enjoy the art peacefully which is rare in the Louvre.

After hours exploring the Louvre, I ate at Café Marley which overlooks the Louvre courtyard. The Louvre is a massive museum, but definitely one of my favorite places in Paris. I hope to come back to see even more art at the Louvre!

Au Revior!

-Alissa Smith


Exploring the Region

As I mentioned in my first blog post, Freiburg is situated in the lower corner of the Black Forest, very close to where France, Switzerland, and Germany intersect. From Freiburg, it’s easy to get to the quintessential Black Forest, to venture into the Badish wine region, or to head into Switzerland to hike in the alps. The Rhine River flows only a short distance to the west, dividing France and Germany.

In this post, I’ll talk about the notable villages around Freiburg that I can visit using only regional transportation, which means it doesn’t cost me anything to get there.

A field of spring wildflowers with the blue mountains of the Schwarzwald rising in the background- what could be more typical of the region?

Using my semester ticket for the public transportation, I can go anywhere in the regional transportation network. One charming place is the village of Staufen. To me, Staufen feels like a miniature version of Freiburg. Almost as old, Staufen has the same medieval colorful facades and baechle, just on a smaller scale. The main street is lined with shops and street cafes, and if you wander into residential areas, the houses are just as picturesque.

This metal sculpture of an ostrich is wearing a “Bollenhut”, or a “ball hat”. The red pom-pom covered hats are part of the traditional folk costume of the Black Forest region. This photo was taken in the village of Staufen. In the background, you can see a little bit of the main street.
This vineyard hill is topped with the ruins of the old castle that overlooked Staufen until it was destroyed in 1632. You can hike up to the top and poke around in the ruins, as well as get a great view of the countryside!

Staufen is also famous for one legendary citizen- Dr. Faustus. The real-life Faust was an alchemist who lived and worked in Staufen until he died in an accidental explosion while experimenting with ways to turn lead into gold. Because of this, his death very soon turned into a medieval moral legend about a man who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for worldly goods, but got what was coming to him in the end. The legend inspired the so-called “German Shakespeare” to write a play in which Faust is the titular main character. The house where Faust once lived has a mural depicting the legend on it.

This photo shows the town hall (blue building with coats of arms) and main square of Staufen. It’s full of good restaurants and cafes!

Also in the region are the quintessential Black Forest towns of Triberg, St. Peter’s, and Furtwangen. Triberg is home to many kitschy cuckoo clock shops, the highest waterfall in Germany, and the Black Forest museum. Furtwangen is similarly kitschy and has the German Clock Museum. The cuckoo clock is originally from the Black Forest, and it’s always a fun time to visit one of the museums and see how the clocks work and listen to the different chimes. I can’t say that I exactly recommend trying Black Forest cake- I’ve been disappointed each time I’ve tried it- but there’s also a sense that you can’t not try at least one slice.

This especially fine clock is no cuckoo clock, but is one of the pieces on display in the German clock museum in Furtwangen.
The stunning baroque chapel in St. Peter’s is worth a visit. I got a tour of the chapel and former monastery with an IES day trip.

St. Peter’s in the Black Forest is also a charming town with one unique feature to distinguish it- the former Benedictine monastery and seminary that features beautiful baroque art and architecture.

Maultaschen is a traditional regional dish that you can try in the Black Forest. It’s basically meat-filled noodles with gravy on top. I often buy these from the store and heat them up at home for a meal!

Now that the weather’s warmed up, I’ve been exploring the countryside behind my neighborhood, which is the Western-most section of the city. Once I leave the city, there’s miles of farmland and forests, broken up by little villages. Yesterday I had a chance to explore the Opfinger Lake- I have no photos though, because in typical German style, the swimmers were all nude! While I don’t anticipate participating in the Freikörperkultur (“free-body culture”), I plan on going back to swim, especially after my classes are over.

Latin Quarter and First Day of Classes!

Classes finally started at the IES Center! My first class is French 101 with Professor Lerouvillois. I have never taken French language before, but I find learning the language very interesting. I think the language rules are very similar to Spanish which I studied for five years, so I am learning pretty fast.  After class concluded, all of us students went down the street to a local deli.  We also put to use what we learned in class and ordered our food successfully in French! (Je voudrais un sandwich, s’il vous plaît = I would like a sandwich, please.)

The other class I am taking here in Paris is Global Marketing with Professor DeGendre. I absolutely love this class and it is super interesting. We learned about how companies change their advertising campaigns to match the culture of a country. McDonald’s was a unique example I found interesting, as the McDonald’s here in Paris has a very fancy interior, a different menu, and also serves macaroons! I hope to have a career in international marketing, so this class is great experience!

After class and lunch, our group decided to take the metro and tour the Latin Quarter of St. Germain des Prés. The Latin Quarter is the oldest area of Paris and contains all of Paris’ old universities. It is known as the Latin Quarter because the universities used to only teach classes in Latin. We also visited the famous cathedral of Notre Dame and the royal chapel of Saint Chapelle. Notre Dame is famous for its two large towers that I plan to climb to the top of sometime, while Saint Chapelle is famous for its extensive stained glass walls. My personal favorite is Saint Chapelle (bottom photo) because the intricate details on the stained glass are amazing. No two panels are alike and the glass is hand painted.


Since the Latin Quarter is famous for being the oldest area of Paris, I of course had to eat at the oldest restaurant in Paris.  I ate at Café Procope, which was established in 1686 and is still open.  I sat outside in the back alley as I was served duck and crème brûlée.  This was definitely the best meal I have ever had (and probably one of the fanciest)!


Bon appetit!

-Alissa Smith

Drinking Problems

Costa Rica takes their coffee very seriously. Since 1989, the government has forbidden the growing of the lesser coffee, Coffea canephora (robusta). It is only legal to cultivate Coffea arabica, which is considered the superior coffee because its lower caffeine content decreases bitterness and allows for more subtle flavors. If you buy specialty coffee, you’re buying arabica!

So let’s talk about coffee. Every day, we consume over 2.25 billion cups of coffee worldwide. Such a massive market has far-reaching consequences, and we ought to consider those impacts before making purchases in order to be responsible consumers.
(I realize that this already sounds tedious and sanctimonious, so I promise that there will be a cute frog picture if you make it to the end.)

There’s a whole host of problems when it comes to the pricing and distribution of coffee. The short of it is that large coffee companies like Nestle, Kraft, Proctor&Gamble and Sara Lee end up with 90% of the profit, while 10% goes to their farmers. That small cut is not nearly enough to live on, which is why it’s important to purchase fair trade coffee that offers reasonable prices for the growers.

We’re all familiar with that cause. Buy fair trade. …But you’re not off the hook yet. What about the environmental impacts of coffee here in the tropics?

Coffee plants themselves are no great problem: these small, scrubby plants can grow in topographies that don’t suit other crops, and they’re often grown in high altitude areas where they help to reduce erosion, encourage the accumulation of leaf litter nutrients, and increase rainwater retention in the soil.

But these benefits are often overshadowed by the problems caused by large-scale farms, which prompt the next great debate: sun coffee vs. shade coffee.

Many farmers prefer sun-grown coffee for its fewer pest problems and high (short term) bean production, but this ultimately depletes soil nutrients and the large swathes of cropland fragment old-growth tropical forests.
Shade coffee, on the other hand, is grown in the forest understory, which allows some animal habitat to persist and assists natural pollinators in doing their job, both with the coffee plants and in the surrounding environment. The shade coffee plants produce fewer beans, but do so for much longer before they burn out and require labor-intensive replacement. The leaf drop from plants overhead also assists with faster nutrient turnover, creating healthier, richer soils. It unfortunately requires some extra work on the part of the farmer, and sometimes the additional application of agrochemicals as there is no harsh sun to keep the insects at bay, but it’s significantly better for our world’s vanishing tropical forests.

To drive this point home, we had the pleasure of visiting local sun- and shade- coffee farms while we’re here in Costa Rica! The sun plantation was about what you would expect; rows upon rows of bushy plants baking in the dry heat, rooted in cracked, bare soil. Let’s not dwell on it.
But the shade coffee plantation, run by our host Don Roberto, was truly fascinating. In addition to shading his crops with tree-like banana plants, he digs pits along the coffee rows to help catch dropped leaves and keep soil nutrients cycling, and grows everything in terraces to help avoid erosion and runoff. Click on the photos below to expand them and read their captions!

So, in conclusion: buy fair trade and shade grown coffee, or you’re a horrible person.
I kid, I kid. But if you enjoy a hot cup of morning drugs, perhaps consider looking into where it’s coming from. Your dollars are shaping the lives of people across the world, which is both amazing and terrifying. And if you’re already happy with your coffee buying habits, maybe read up on your favorite brands anyway. It’s an interesting business to learn about!

You made it to the end! Here’s that cute frog picture, as promised. This fella was lurking in the forest around the Las Cruces Biological Station.

P.S. If you scrolled straight to the bottom for the frog photo, you are a cheater. Our deal was that you read.
God is watching.

Arc de Triomphe, Seine Boat Tour, and Champs Elysees!

What is a summer studying in Paris without a visit to the Arc de Triomphe? This was one of the monuments I was most excited to visit! Something I did not know is the only way to access the Arc de Triomphe is to cross the street through an underground tunnel because the street is so busy all the time. Once we got to the Arc, we decided to climb the tons of stairs to the top for an amazing view of Paris.


Our IES group also took a boat tour on the Seine to see all the famous locations of Paris. We learned the history of each monument, and saw all of Paris within a few hours. One of my favorite monuments is the Pont Alexandre III bridge, pictured below, which is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris.

Later on, we went shopping on the famous Champs Élysées. This street houses all of the most expensive stores in Paris, ranging from Louis Vuitton, to Gucci, to Versace. We soon realized we were the most under-dressed customers, but still had a ton of fun window shopping. While on Champs Élysées, we stopped at Ladurée, the most famous macaroon store in France. I had a lavender macaroon and it was one of the best desserts I have ever had. I will definitely have to buy a box before I leave!


Bonne Soirée!

-Alissa Smith