Friday, May 27, 2011

All good things must come to an end

My dear family and friends,
I'd first like to thank you for keeping in touch with my throughout the semester and reading my blog during this amazing experience.  As I said in one of my first blog posts, I wanted to keep an online journal of my thoughts and experiences and photos to share with everyone who helped me get to where I am today and to embark on this crazy study abroad experience.  I'm glad you've followed my journey and in someways I hope you felt included in everything I have been apart of these past 5 months because without all of your love and support I wouldn't be able to write this final blog post and conclude my time abroad if it wasn't for you.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Dr. Seuss and said: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened", and while I am very excited to come home and see everyone again and sleep in my own bed and not have to stumble for words to express what I'm trying to say to a foreigner, I am a little said to say good bye to France and to close the book on this chapter in my life.  I have met many wonderful people through my program and through my travels who have touched my life and my heart in a very deep way and they will never be forgotten.  I've been pushed to my limits and put in situations that made me grow up very fast, but it is from this experience that I am a different person, I hope a better person.  Someone with a more developed world view and appreciation for the world and all the people that make up such beautiful and rich cultures and nations.  In traveling the world I've developed a new appreciation for humanity and the world around me.  I've also come to realize how much I take   for granted my own country and the freedoms that come with being an American.  I could easily say I have seen a lot of the world at this point in my life, as least more than many others can account for and yet I look at my own country and realize how much it still has to offer.  How much I haven't seen and experienced in my own backyard.  I've loved this experience and wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything in the world.  I think spending 5 months away from home and outside my comfort zone has proven to me that there is a world out there to explore and fall in love with time and time again, but I need to not forget where my true home is and where I come from and the amazing family and friends I will always have to come home to.
Well I have one more trip to tell you all about before I end my final blog.
After my spring break trip to Germany and Austria I had about 2 weeks to rest up and in that time I took my final exams.  The weekend in between the two weeks of final exams, I went on a day trip with some of my friends to Cassis.  Cassis is a small coastal city on the Mediterranean Ocean.  We took a bus around noon and just laid on the beach and played around in the water for a couple of hours.  You can rent a boat or canoe and explore the cliffs and other beaches along the coast.  The beach was a rock beach rather than sand and I actually preferred this so you didn't get covered in sand, but the water was pretty cold for me.  The last bus from Cassis to Aix was at 4:30 and much too early in the day for us, so we made the 30 minute walk to the train station and took the train home.

I only had two final exams to take during the two week period and of course one of those exams was on the last Friday afternoon.  I am happy to inform you that I made all As and Bs in my classes.  After final exams were over we had our program dinner with everyone that was still in France, since some students decided to leave early as soon as their exams were over.  The program dinner was held at a hotel reception hall in Aix and they served a very nice 3 course meal.  In between the main entree and dessert the program directors showed a slide show of photos from both the year long program and my semester program.  Everyone had a chance (if they wanted) to tell some their favorite memories from the semester.  After the dinner some of us went out to our favorite bars for one more drink together and then we got the brilliant idea to go jump in all the fountains in Aix.  Now Aix-en-Provence is known as the city of fountains and has over 40 different fountains.  We only made to about 10 and thank god never got caught!  The water was of course very cold, but with a beer or two in your system it really wasn't too bad.  The next morning after the program dinner I left for Corsica with 4 of my friends who were on the year long program.

We took a train from Aix to Nice, France (which I had visited earlier in the semester with my mom) and from there we took a ferry to Calvi, Corsica.  Corsica is a French island close to Italy and just above Sardinia.  Napolean (the short French dictator everyone has heard of) was born on this island and rumor has it that Christopher Columbus landed on the island to explore.  We had rent a small beach cabin for the week and our landlord we were renting from was kind enough to pick us up at the dock and drive us to the beach house.  The beach cabin was very nice with a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom, and just enough beds for everyone.  I shared the loft with my friend Alexa.  There was even a TV, but we didn't really take time to watch any TV.  There was a barbecue area out front with a table and chairs where we ate dinner together.  Everyday I went to the beach and just soaked up the sun and played in the ocean.  Two of my friends rented a scooter for 3 days to drive up the coast and check out other beaches.  There was a citadel up on a hill by the docks that I explored on one of the days in the morning before the sun got too hot.  The water in the ocean was so clear and shallow and there were little fish swimming around our legs when we'd walk far into the water.  One day we saw a military plane fly in low over the beach and then into the mountains that surrounded the city and drop off 20 paratroopers.  I had to google this, and found out that during WWII the U.S. used Corsica as a landing and launching point to bomb Italy and the French military still uses it today to practice.  We were on the island for 7 full days and on the last day when we were packing up and getting ready to leave we all took one more look at the beach cabin and shared the thought that we did not want to leave this place.  Corsica made for a good last trip abroad to relax and have fun with friends, and on a low budget.  We took the ferry back to Nice, France and had about 2 hours before our train left for Aix so I went up to the northwest neighborhood of Nice to check out the Russian cathedral.  It's supposed to be the biggest Russian cathedral in Europe, but it seemed kind of small to me.  You had to pay 3 euro to go inside so I opted out of that and just checked out the exterior architecture and designs.  I took the train back to Aix with two of my friends and got home around 9:30.  I really loved my time in Munich, but Corsica was a great trip as well.  It's not everyday that one can spend a week on a beach on an island in the Mediterranean with nothing to do but sleep and swim in the ocean.  It makes reality suck!

This past weekend Aix had a "garage sale", and so of course I could not pass that up!! Cathy and I went pretty early in the morning for us at least and spent almost 3 hours browsing the booths.  Since French homes don't typically have drive ways and there really aren't neighborhoods, the city blocked off a main road in the center of the town and everyone who wanted a spot could rent a booth from 7 am to 7 pm and sell their wares.  I bought a couple books, some old pictures of Aix and a deck of French playing cards.  Yes they are different than American playing cards, but only because of the king, queen, jack, and ace.  Cathy got really lucky and bought some of the Harry Potter books in French for a euro a piece where they would typically be sold for about 16-20 euro a piece.  Cathy's dinner family had a booth so I got to meet her host mom and sister.

Well at this moment I have about 3 days left in France will be leaving next Tuesday morning.  I'll fly to Munich and then Philadelphia where I have a 6 hour layover and fortunately get to spend some time with my Aunt Kathy and cousin Victor.  I'll then fly to Louisville and my dad will pick me up and we'll make the two hour drive home.  My last week in France has been busy with terminating different services, cell phone, internet, etc. and packing, lots of packing.  I think I can get all this loot I have collected into two suitcases a back pack and a shoulder bag I'm going to try to pull off as an over sized purse.  It's also filled with a lot good byes, to my new friends and family I've made in France.  I met with my french family for the last time this past Wednesday.  The last time I had met with them we talked about all the American food that you can't find in France, such as chocolate chip cookies.  So I baked them a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and all three kids started salivating as soon as they saw them and begged and pleaded with their mom to have just one before dinner.  It was a really nice last dinner with them.  I played cards with the three kids rather than doing an english lesson.  It was a defining moment in the French education up to this point because I was able to teach them about 5 new card games all in French without stumbling for words or causing a lot of confusion for them.  It felt really good to know that even in small ways my French had improved and my confidence to speak the language had improved by leaps and bounds over these past 5 months.  After dinner I stay until almost 11:00pm and I think the mom didn't really want me to go home.  She even offered that I could spend the night at their house if I wanted so I wouldn't have to walk home alone in the dark.  Aix is a pretty safe city and I wasn't worried about that.  We sat out on their front patio for about an hour or two just talking and making observations about France and talking about what I'll miss most about France and what I have missed most about the U.S.  They gave me a good bye gift.  It was a scarf, which is only too appropriate for me and my obsession with scarves.  I was able to get a photo with them, so of course I will post that, and I gave them all my contact info so if they ever come visit the US they can come see me, and they told me if and when I ever come back to France I am welcome to stay with them.  I think the dinner family portion of the program was one of my favorite parts.  Even though I dreaded going on some weeks, once I was there I always had a lot of fun with the kids and talking to the mom and of course she is an amazing cook so the food was guaranteed to be great.
top 5 things I will miss about France:
1.  the food, especially the cheese and fresh warm baguettes
2.  the weather.  it's always sunny and warm out
3.  trains.  being able to jump on a train and in an hour or so be in another part of the country or even Europe.  In the US everything is so spread out, where as in Europe one can explore so many different places in a couple of days and on a minimal budget.
4.  my French family
5.  little french kids and their cute accents (I may still try to bring one home with me)

top 5 things I missed about the US
1.  mom and dad
2. my closest friends (you know who you are)
3. bloomington
4. peanut butter
5.  my own room and privacy

I love quotes so I have one final quote that I love to use whenever possible.  Lewis Carrol originally wrote these words and Rosie O'Donnel quoted them in the movie "Harriette the Spy".
The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carrol
..."The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
Mr. Carrol is right.  The time has come for talk of many things.  Talk of great memories from the past and what's to come in the future.  I have loved my time in France and wouldn't trade it for the world, but the time has come that I should return home.  Home to my family and friends, home to my Bloomington, and home to what has always been most comfortable to me.  My France will always be here, but for now I should come Gros Bisous!! A bientot!!
Many kisses and see you soon!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our last morning in Vienna, Austria we woke up at 5:30 am to pack up and catch our next train to Berlin, Germany.  Unfortunately we missed the first train and took another one an hour later.  That is one plus to the eurorail passes, but probably the only plus: being able to take any train whenever you want.  We made two connections in Nurnberg, Germany and Gottenburg, Germany.  We didn't have a long enough layover in each city to tour around, but I think we were both pretty tired at this point.  I had backed several sandwiches and oranges for the trip to eat for lunch or when I couldn't get to a food stand, but at this point in the trip I was out of food.  So, I bought a 4.5 euro sandwich on the train.  Turkey and curry on wheat, interesting to say the least.  We finally arrived in Berlin around 6:30 pm.  We had to catch a bus to get to our hostel and then walk the rest of the way.  When we arrived at the hostel (David's cosy little backpacker hostel) there was a sign on the door that David was out of the building at the time and we should call his cell phone rather then knock on the door and the door bell was broken.  So I called David on my cellphone.  He proceeds to tell me I need to wait 5 minutes and he'll come let me in.  Let me preface this hostel experience by saying that we only paid 7 euro a night to stay in the hostel where as we had been paying 16 or 18 euro a night in the other two hostels.  We got our 7 euro worth out of David's cosy little backpacker hostel.  When David finally showed up he were told to take off our shoes and leave them at the door and put on a pair of slippers from the shelves next to the door.  I opted to walk barefoot.  David showed us to our room which we shared with 10 other people.  We had to pay for sheets that had been used by previous backpackers (thank god I stole the sheets from the last hostel).  Cathy and my bed were literally touching and my bed was not even a foot from the Indian man sleeping next to me.  Very intimate I guess you could say...  There was one shower and two toilets and many many sinks for all of us to share.  In our room there was a plastic curtain splitting the room in half.  The walls were covered in murals and objects stapled and hammered to the wall.  It was very... eclectic.  We left our stuff on our beds and headed out to meet up with a friend of Cathy's for dinner.  We took the metro to the east side of town where Cathy's friend was meeting us to go out for pizza.  We had little trouble meeting up but finally found Emily (Cathy's friend) and met two of Emily's friends Julian and Nick.  They are all grad students in North Carolina, but spending the year abroad at a university in Berlin.  We ate at a really great Italian restaurant and all ordered pizza.  After dinner Cathy and I made our way back to the hostel and I attempted to sleep on a nasty used mattress that had springs like little needles poking into my back.  I didn't have any expectations to get sleep in Berlin.

Our first full day in Berlin started off by touring a church that had been bombed during World War II and has since been rebuilt.  The interior was entirely blue mosaic stained glass with a single wooden crucifix of chirst hanging above the alter.  It was a very modern church compared to the other churches we had seen, but it had a real simplicity to it that I really liked.  After checking out the church we grabbed a pastry from a metro bakery (actually pretty good food, I will admit I was doubtful at first) and went to meet up with our tour guide for the  FREE East Berlin tour.  See there was this thing that happened after World War II up until 1989 where the entire city of Berlin was split in half, East and West Berlin.  This is called the Berlin Wall, pretty important!  We were told that the tour was to meet in front of a German bakery by the zoo, well that bakery was no longer in business.  Funny thing is our tour guide was told to meet in front of Dunkin' Donuts.  This German bakery was turned into a Dunkin' Donuts which was recently turned into a McDonald's.  We were pretty lucky to find our tour guide considering neither of these business were located in this area anymore.  Cathy and I were the only two at the meeting point with the tour guide, so he showed us to the metro station and we took both the U-bahn and S-bahn (it's the German version of a metro or subway system) to the meeting point at the Brandenburg Gate.  

Our tour guide's name was Zabi (it's short for something crazy) and he moved to Berlin from England.  He was really spunky and eclectic with a little mohawk and some pretty crazy earrings.  He started the tour just south of the Brandenburg Gate, which is also the plaza (Pariser Plaza) where the hotel that Michael Jackson hung his child over the balcony is located.  When our tour guide told he that he said, "I'll just step out of the way and let you take photos.  Don't worry I won't judge you".  So heck ya I took a photo!  From there we saw the Reichstag from a distance (German parliament) and we also saw a line of bricks (two by two) running through the street.  This line of bricks signifies where the Berlin wall was located at the time of Communist East Germany.  I think now is a good time for a quick history lesson.  You see after World War II ended, and obviously Germany lost (again!) So what is currently the country of Germany was split into four sections each ruled by either the US, the UK, France, and the Soviet Union.  The eastern part ruled by the Soviet Union (ie. communist) was turned into East Berlin and subsequently the rest of current day Germany was West Berlin.  This is the time in history when Stalin got big and famous.  So basically the Soviets and East Germany thought they had it right with this whole communism bit and thus built a wall to separate West Berlin out of their communist East Berlin, and to also keep Easter Berliners on their side and not able to cross to West Berlin.   The Eastern bloc thought the Western section of Germany wasn't yet de-Nazified and want to be seperated from all that.  They even went so far so to build two walls, an interior and exterior wall the literally split the streets in half and cut neighbors off from each other.  If you went to school, worked, or had family and friends on the other side:  too bad not any more.  Many people tried to escape East Berlin to freedom but many lives were lost in this effort.  This is a rather epic photo of an East Berlin military man jumping the barbed wire fence at the time of construction to escape East Berlin to the freedoms of West Berlin.  This is also the image on the stone next to our tour guide in a picture I'll post on my blog.  So in 1989 the wall came down.  How?  Well one of the head leaders of Eastern communist Germany made a press release to the world that the wall was coming down.  When? now!  Why?!!  Well this guy was a bit of an idiot and had all the questions and answers written out for him for the press release so he wouldn't have to actually do anything.  Just before going on stage one of his secretaries ran a piece of paper to him about the impending news of the wall coming down and urged the political head of the Eastern block to read this information before going on stage. Did he?  Heck no!  So when an Italian reporter started drilling him questions about the Berlin wall he panics because this question is not on his paper and he doesn't have a pre-scripted answer.  Crap what to do?!  O ya read the paper his secretary gave him 10 minutes ago.  So he did and without realizing it he read word for word that the east Berlin citizens could be let out with proper documentation.  So of course they all collected the necessary paper work and stormed the check points to be let out.  He later realized what he had done and couldn't go back on his word.  Not long after the wall came down.  Everyone was freed and everyone partied.  Our tour guide told us that some people believe David Hastelhoff was a main reason the Berlin wall came down, but that is false although he is much loved in Berlin.  So there ya go the Berlin wall in a nut shell.  We then went to the Holocaust memorial dedicated to the murdered Jews.  What I loved so much about Munich and Germany is that yes Germany was the head quarters for the Nazi regime and yes Hitler was the dictator of this country who ruthless killed and murders hundreds of thousands of not millions of people for no good reason, but Germany doesn't forget.  It owns up to its past and its mistakes.  There are memorials everywhere, subtle memorials so no one ever forgets what happens and to strive to never let it happen again.  Granted this obviously isn't the case because we know have Darfur to face, but it is still a grave lesson to be learned.  Our tour guide told us that each German student must go through World War II history every year in school and before graduating high school they are required to visit two concentration camps.  So here was have the holocaust memorial.  There is no plaque telling you what it is or why it's there.  It's just a city block of granite slabs, each of the same measurements but different heights.  There is no definite meaning to the memorial, it's more open to interpretation based on how it makes you feel and what images and thoughts it invokes.  It reminded me of how the concentration camp prisoners started out being able to see the world around them, even just the person to the left and the right.  Just as I could when I entered the memorial, but as you get into the middle you can no longer see from side to side, only what's in front of you and it does begin to invoke a sense of fear as I imagine these prisoners felt.  Also it is as though the granite slabs are the Nazi regime holding control over your life as to what you can see and where you can go.  Basically when you get to the middle you have no control and you must follow the path set out for you.  Cathy thought it represented bar graphs for those who lost their lives.  It was interesting to share our interpretations with the tour group.  Along our walk to our next stop our tour guide pointed out the memorial to the East German soldier I mentioned earlier and a street display of communist model cars.  

Our next stop didn't seem all too important at first.  An apartment complex?  No big deal, right.  So our tour guide tells us that an Olympic figure skating gold medalist female from east Berlin lived in that apartment complex once.  And as our tour guide is walking out of the complex he turns around and tells us, "o by the way you are standing on top of Hitler's bunker where he committed suicide.  BAM! Just like that.  It was kind of a weird out of body experience to put to and two together.  When the Soviet's overtook parts of Berlin they tried to implode the bunker, but since it was bomb resistant (this was a world war after all) there are still parts of it intact.  You can see where the entrance to the bunker was located, there is now a bright green recycling bin on top of it.  There was a sign with the lay out of the bunker as it existed during World War II.  So Hitler is pretty famous for this work during the second world war and being an out right dictator.  He knew that as soon as Germany was losing the war to the allies he couldn't be caught alive and the allied forces or the Soviets could not have his body.  So on April 30th 1945 Hitler and his bride Eva Braun ingested cyanide pills and he proceeded to shoot himself in the head.  Hitler had ordered his body to be burned so the allies and Soviet's couldn't find it, and mysteriously enough Eva's body was never found...  
We proceeded to check out Check Point Charley.  It was a US check point at the west and east borders of Berlin.  It was torn down after the wall came down, but has since been reconstructed and is manned by actors that will charge you for a photo.  I snapped my photo from a distance and didn't have to pay.  We also saw the former SS head quarters and the Luftwaffe headquarters.  The SS headquarters had been riddled with bullets and all of the bullet holes from the war are still in the walls of the former headquarters, as yet another silent memorial. We then got to see what is left of the exterior wall of the Berlin Wall.  Like I said there was an interior and an exterior wall to make it all the harder for east berliners to escape.  Our tour guide told us that yes many souvenir shops sell "pieces" of the Berlin wall, but if someone were to collect all those pieces and reconstructed the wall as it stood in its time;  the wall could be rebuilt 4 times over.  So word to the wise those little pieces of cement claiming to be the Berlin wall, are in fact just cement with acrylic paint.  

So after Check Point Charley the group stopped for a lunch break that sponsors the company.  After lunch we visited another memorial in honor of all the books that were burned during the second world war.  During the war Nazi's decided that all literature written and published by or about Jews was no longer allowed to by in bookstores, libraries, or homes in Germany.  A lot of great literature was lost forever so there is a memorial in the ground of one of the plaza's in Berlin that has 4 walls of white empty bookshelves buried underground.  The shelves can be seen from a plexi glass window in the ground.  The sun put a pretty good glare on the glass so I couldn't really see anything so sorry there isn't a photo.  Across from the plaza with the book memorial is Humboldt University where Otto Van Bismark, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and many noble peace prize winners received their education.  We also saw a very German style market and from a distance the TV tower, which has a great observation deck and a restaurant.  We saw one more memorial of a mother holding her dead son in honor of all the men who lost their lives during the war, and how the loss of one life and effect so many other people.  We ended the tour on Museum island (because it's a small island split by the river that flows through Berlin and just has museums on it.  When the tour ended Cathy and I headed to the national museum of German history to meet up with her friend Emily and Julian.  
The national museum of Germnay history would take almost an entire day from open to close to read every plaque and see every piece of the collection.  We did a shortened version in about 2 hours.  The museum started with German history starting at 100 A.D. and went all the way to the current day.  Well as current as you can get in a museum so the 2000s.  It was really neat to see the evolution of the country through politics and pop culture.  I found an old school pin ball machine from I think the 1700s and I thought of you dad!  After the museum we went to a bakery that our tour guide had recommended and was once a part of the royal palace in Berlin.  Cathy and I both ordered Sachertorte.  It's a chocolate cake made it apricot jam and a thick layer of chocolate covering the entire cake.  It's an Austrian specialty that we didn't get the chance to try while we were in Austria, so we made up for it in Berlin.  It was very good, a little too sweet, but interesting to try.  After our "snack" we went to the TV tower to try to buy our tickets for the next morning to avoid the long line, but were told we could only buy tickets the day of our visit.  On our way home we found traffic lights that our tour guide had pointed out on the tour.  During the time of communist East Berlin, it was decided that the communist youth needed to know about traffic safety so the traffic lights to cross the street were changed from red and green circles to red and green traffic men to appeal to the children.  And these traffic lights are still used for nostalgic reasons.  Not of communist Germany, but for the cute little traffic men.  

For dinner we found a cheap Italian restaurant and in the words of Miss Sarah T, "smashed on that pasta", which translates to:  "We ate a lot of pasta and were very full".  We made our way back to the hostel for one more eventful night in that room of 10 other strangers that snore and need to sleep with the light on.  
The next morning for our last day in Berlin we woke up at 7:00 am (I was so ready to sleep in at the end of this trip) we took the metro over to the TV tower to ride the elevator up to the top in less than 60 seconds to get a 360 degree view of Berlin.  They had plaques stationed at each window so you could tell what you were looking at and they even gave a brief description or history of some of the buildings.  We spent about an hour at the TV tower observation deck and then took the elevator back down to the ground floor.  Next we went to the Berliner Dome.  The inside cathedral was gorgeous and there was a museum attached to the church on the second floor that detailed the history of the construction of the church over centuries because no one could decide on the final plan for the church and when they did pick a plan, that person would die and someone else in charge had other ideas for the construction.  There was another observation deck in one of the domes of the church, but not nearly as good a view as from the TV tower.  On our way back down from the dome we heard the organ playing and quickly made our way back into the church.  The organist was playing the wedding march so we thought a wedding was going on, but nope he was just practicing.  After the Berliner Dome we tried going to Pegamon museum, but found out there was a 2 hour wait for tickets so we passed on that museum.  Next we went to the Reichstag or German Parliament.  The Reichstag was actually set on fire during the time of Hitler, and a man was caught (naked in the street drunk), but many don't believe he had any connection to the fire and if he did he wasn't the only culprit because the fire was started simultaneously in several different locations in the Reichstag.   The Reichstag was reconstructed after the fire to now show case a giant glass dome that tourists can climb and see the inner chambers of the building where the central government of Germany is working below.  It was decided during reconstruction to build a glass dome with glass floors so as the government employees are working, they just have to look up to remind themselves who they are working for:  the people of Germany.  We unfortunately could not go in because one would  have to have a reservation made two days in advance.  We then decided to go Potsdamer platz, which has a lot of modern buildings and architecture compared to the rest of the city.  There was a man stationed in the middle of the city just next to a piece of the Berlin wall selling East and West Berlin stamps for your passport.  I was tempted, but figured it wasn't a good idea to have fake stamps in my government issued passport.  After the Potsdamer platz we headed to the Tiergarten which runs down the middle of Berlin.  We started at one end hoping to find food stands for lunch, like we found in the Englisher garten in Munich, but managed to walk the entire length of the garden in about 45 minutes and didn't find a food stand or restaurant till we got all the way to the other end.  When we sat down at a small beer garden restaurant we waited 5 minutes, 10 minutes and never got any service so we left.  We found a grocery store to buy food for the next day's travels home.  We then made our way back to the hostel to change for dinner with Emily and our new friends.  We all met up at a Sri Lanken restaurant (it was a type of Indian food) and then went out for giant sundaes of ice cream.  We ended the night chatting with our new friends we made in Berlin and drinking Austrian wine Cathy and I had bought in Vienna.  
The next morning we woke up to catch a 7:30 am train to make our way back to Aix-en-Provence, but ended up missing it and had to take a 8:30 am train instead.  We were fine with making our connecting trains across Germany.  Once we crossed the French German border into Strasbourg, France, Cathy got in her next train to arrive back in Aix around 1 oe 2 am.  I stayed in Strasbourg since we didn't get to see it at the beginning of our trip and figured I may as well spend the time to see the city since I was there.  First I bought a map for a euro, cause I had about 5 or 6 hours to kill and had no clue where I was going.  I had all my luggage with me, which was probably a bad idea to carry that around with me, but I took short breaks every once in a while to alleviate the load.  I was way turned around as soon as I started out of the train station and had to ask a man for directions to Little France.  Apparently it's the #1 thing to see in Strasbourg.  So I saw it.  I reminded me a lot of Colmar with the wooden framed houses and little river running through it.  I then toured the largest cathedral in Strasbourg called Our Lady.  I bought ice cream to keep up the tradition and a Tart Flambe.  It's a tortilla shell covered in onions and bacon and olive oil with a light cheese and baked.  It was actually pretty good and I might try to make it back in the states sometime.  I went to the Republic plaza and considered walking all the way to the EU head quarters buildings, since the EU is stationed in Strasbourg, but then decided that was an awful long walk alllllll the way back to the train station and opted out of it.  I got to the train station early just in case there was a problem with my train time and I needed to figure another way to get home, but everything was running as scheduled and I took an overnight train home.  I had taken an over night train once before between Italy and France when I traveled in Europe the summer of 2007 with my high school french class, but this one was a little more 2nd class than that train.  I was the first to get into the cabin and used Cathy's reserved bed as a shelf for my luggage.  The man checking tickets told me that there would be two gentlemen joining the cabin during the next two train stops.  I love sleeping on trains and especially when you get a bed to lay down on.  I don't know what it is about the rocking of a train that is so soothing to me to sleep.  When we arrived in Marseille I ran to catch my next train, but since my overnight train arrived late, I had to wait 15 minutes for the next train back to Aix.  Finally I arrived home in my apartment and it was never so nice to take a shower and sleep in my own bed.  
I had a great time on the trip.  I saw a lot and learned even more.  It was by far the trip of a lifetime.