Exploration #7: World of Color

Photo from Keri Smith's "How to be an Explorer of the World"

Photo from Keri Smith’s “How to be an Explorer of the World”

I haven’t actually gone to a proper hardware store here yet. I’m sure that the one I know of, Leroy Merlin, has paint chips. However, for this post I will use a couple of online paint chip applications to choose colors that match some of my favorite things here.

First, the city Transportation system. I really like being able to bike whenever I want without having to buy a bike, and the bus gets me to and from class. Without that, I would be walking for over an hour to get to Sevenans from Belfort!


Next, the springtime flowers and other flora


Exploration #6: Archaeological Dig

Exploration 6 archaeological dig

Photo from Keri Smith’s “How to be an Explorer of the World”

Considering that I do not have many things from my childhood here in France (in fact, I don’t think I brought anything from my childhood with me), I decided to re-create something.

I knew I could get cardboard easily enough, and I had some aluminum foil from chocolate wrappers and some leftover crepe paper from decorating my room. So the first thing that came to mind was to re-create one of the sword and shield hangings that are in my room at home.

I did not find enough clean cardboard to make a shield of a satisfying size, so I settled with just a sword. The process took a couple of days. I used a sandwiching method to put it all together: the blade is 2-cardboards thick while the handle is 5-cardboards thick. The crossguard was layered inside the bottom of the blade, and the handle was sandwiched on the outside of that.

Cut and molded toilet paper tubes became the rounded part of the crossguard, while a slice of round wine cork became the rounded ends of the guard. The pommel was created in a similar manner, using a cut-vertically round-head wine cork. I sliced down part of that to sandwich it into the cardboard and secure it all in place.

When all of this layering was finally set and the glue was dry, I had to choose what color the blade would be. It could be green, blue, or orange based upon what colors I had in paper. I have been listening to the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini recently, so I went with blue. The handle I covered in aluminum foil from various types of chocolate wrappers.

To hang it on my wall was actually a bigger challenge than expected. I have almost no sticky tack left, and I couldn’t find such a substance in any of the stores I’ve been in here. I had, however, purchased suction cup hooks for my window hangings. I replaced their metal hooks with more flexible string loops and then taped the hooks to the wall so my sword could hang above the head of my bed.

The Blue Sword

A Trip to Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and Nancy – Part 1

A six-day, three-city tour began, like most days in Belfort, with a bus ride. In this case, it was to the TGV station where we took the train to Strausbourg. Our first hotel was part of the Ibis Budget chain and not at all far from the train station.

The Gare de Strausbourg as seen from a fifth floor hotel

The view of the train station from our hotel

First, we saw the great cathedral in Strausbourg, which is a place of pride for the Alsace region. The entirety of the city is built with fantastic architecture, and a beautiful river runs through its heart. Some of the bridges we crossed had locks hung on them, reminders of one of my favorite traditions here: placing locks and throwing away the key to secure love for a lifetime or to stow away a secret.

Most of the group found a cheap lunch, but Evan and I went down a little side-street to a restaurant called Crep’Mili. The restaurant was mostly underground and we had to climb down a full flight of tight stairs before entering a warm but lowly lit cave-like dining area. Evan and I both had comfort-food crepes, really. I had ham, egg, and cheese while he had a seafood array. It was a nice little restaurant, and we both had hot cocoa. This was the first ‘typical’ French hot cocoa I’d had. It was very bitter and took both sugar packets to get to be a taste I could handle.

Crep'Mili Lunch in Strausbourg

The wind howled for much of day, though the sun was bright and beautiful. On the way home for a pre-dinner nap (we walked 10km), Evan and I got caught in a sudden typhoon-like storm. The rain was pounding and viciously slicing on a diagonal. The wind was so strong that it knocked over a store’s plant boxes. I enlisted Evan to help pick up the plant boxes when the rain subsided enough, and just a little later the store owner came out and thanked us for righting the plants. It was a crazy moment of a storm that passed very quickly.

There was no crazy weather during our second day in Strausbourg. We toured a number of European Union buildings, including a human rights building. Eventually, we meandered to a huge park and had lunch. The green space was a welcome place and felt a lot more like home than any of these cities ever do. The cities smell different than home, but the countryside always smells the same.

As we walked away from the park, I finally saw a squirrel! It was a reddish brown color and the size of a grey squirrel but with longer and pointier ears. There was also a long line of trees in which huge nests were built and inhabited by huge waterfowl.

Later, a few of us set out to find a pottery shop I’d seen the day before. The potter was very kind and skilled and set about to explaining what each piece was. I knew which goblet I was going to purchase, but took the time to look at everything anyway. The art was magnificent! When I made my purchase, the artist gave me a pamphlet and business card after wrapping up the goblet.



Exploration #4: Daily Walk

Exploration #4: Daily Walk

Photo from “How to be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith

I can’t collect actual objects without ending up with a million things I cannot take home. So instead today, I tried to change my path to school.

Since I can’t change which bus I take, I sat on the other side of the bus. I didn’t see much that was new, but I did get the chance to see some buildings I don’t usually see because I always return at night. I found a few beautiful spring flowers this afternoon on my way to class:

        Spring flowers                                  Spring Flowers 2

I rode with a friend from Sevenans to band today. That did allow me a new tour of stores. I have never gone into Belfort from Sevenans by going behind the train station.

Band has begun to be very fun. It is less of a chore to understand what is being asked of me and I can now enjoy the music more. Sometime this week, I will have to purchase a bottle of valve oil for my old euphonium. The instrument works well, but it is old enough to have the tuning slide before the valves.


Exploration #3: Light

Picture from "Explorer of the World" by Keri Smith

Picture from “Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith

I think the most interesting pattern I see regularly is that created by my window shades in the morning. I marked it the first morning: there are 1.5″ slits that look like dashes in my shades. These cast a fun pattern on my wall, bright dashes that get bigger the farther they are from the windows. It’s enjoyable to get rows upon rows of bright dashes of light streaming in.

Last weekend, I purchased crêpe paper in four colors: blue, orange, yellow, and green. I now have two window hangings and two wall hangings, which keep my room feeling much less blank and desolate. The window hangings don’t filter light much, but they are nicely illuminated when the sun comes through in the morning.

I noticed this morning that my waterbottles do something that glass prisms do: they create little rainbows! Right around the edge of the bottles where a shadow should have been, pale rainbows exist instead.


shows dashes of light streaming through window shades     shows a wall hanging on a white wall with increasingly larger dashes of light

Exploration #2: Experience Collection

photo from "How to be an Explorer of the World" by Keri Smith

photo from “How to be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith

I have made a small list of things I have noticed so far in France:

  1. There are no drinking fountains in the UTBM, or in any other public space that I have seen
    1. Seriously, I’ve never seen a drinking fountain here. Most people use water bottles, disposable or not.
    2. There is also a very present push for recycling and Earth consciousness here. There are recycling spaces all over, and almost every product has something that says “Think about the earth, recycle!”
  2. Black beans are nearly impossible to find
    1. Black beans, cheddar cheese, thick yogurt, and a few other foods are much harder to find here.
    2. However, there were whole rabbits, various critters’ brains and livers that were available at the supermarket. The vegetables are also more varied and fresher than at home. I’ve already commented about the bread – it’s not meant to last more than a few days.
  3. Contact solution can be found at the pharmacy – but only by asking
    1. At home, contact solution is on the shelf and is easy to find. Here, I have to go to the pharmacy and then specifically ask for it. Luckily, it’s slightly cheaper here than at home.
  4. Chapstick bottles are built differently, and better, in my opinion
    1. In the USA, chapstick bottles are built with a small cap and a little wheel on the bottom. Here, the cap covers most of the bottle and though the wheel is still at the bottom, it affects the entire bottle. There is no way to accidentally push the chapstick up too far without taking the cap off.
  5. Sundays are complete do-nothing days
    1. The only things that are open are the cinema and various restaurants
  6. Though communication is harder, we actually communicate better with partial barriers because we work really hard to overcome them
    1. Whether I am talking to other exchange students or French natives,