Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vacances de Noel - Clermont-Ferrand!

Today is my first full day in Clermont-Ferrand. I timed things well in terms of getting up, eating breakfast, and deciding things to do. As usual, I have about a day longer than I need in this city, but luckily there’s a MALL! Ok, I’ve already been there but I saved Galeries LaFayette for a day when I’m bored silly. I love French stores…such pretty clothes and so cute. I really like one of the looks: skinny tight pants, pointy flats or ballerinas, and a turtleneck with a smock-like top. It looks so cute and I know I would look so good in it. Ah I cannot wait for the January sales to get underway.

Today I went to the tourism office – the “i” always saves you, Aunt Karla! – to get any information about a concert, opera, or play shown in the days I’m here. Unfortunately, it’s vacation, and the week-long limbo between Christmas and New Year’s. So no such luck. But the tourism office has a mini Romanesque art museum, complete with a thirty minute-long video detailing Romanesque religious sculpture and architecture. My historical architectural knowledge is deepening. Slowly. I also went to the Cathédrale de Clermont-Ferrand, a foreboding and hauntingly beautiful structure. It was built with volcanic rocks, so it’s black. Unlike other ancient urban structures that turn a dark sooty color after centuries of urban pollution, this one is already black. It’s really pretty inside and outside. I found a door inside that advertised climbing up the church’s tower to see a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains. However it was locked and I can never figure out where to find whoever’s in charge of churches. They are such rich places, and they’re usually always open. Anyways. It was a beautiful place to spend the morning.

I then found a place for lunch: 11€ Vietnamese buffet! Thank you for something other than traditional French food. It’s great stuff, really…but I was really itching for something different. Luckily the biggest city in central France has a strong non-native population. So that was delicious. And the French idea of spicy is not. Not at all.

The rest of the afternoon, I shopped. I bought a two-disc compilation of traditional French songs from singers like Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, and Maurice Chevalier. I also bought a CD of French Christmas carols, complete with instrumental and karaoke versions! Also, I found the Michelin store! Michelin is a FRENCH company, if you didn’t know, and it’s based in Clermont. So all your tires are French. The company also produces well-respected AAA-style road maps and travel guides. And the Michelin Man – the big round dude – has a name! His name is Bidemon or something like that. I bought a little stuffed version of him. He’s going to be my “traveling gnome.” Hey, I need something to entertain myself!

Then I went to Jardin LeCoq. It’s named after some famous Clermont person. I dunno. But it was a really nice place. To get there, I passed all the university buildings, reminding of Cortland and La Rochelle. The garden was very pleasant. The pond had been drained due to the season. I saw a beautiful Classic sculpture of a woman crying in a grotto, and I took a picture of it. It reminded me of a sculpture I saw in Toulouse last time around. Anyways, I liked the sculpture and the topiary in the shape of a seal with a ball. That amused me.

Then I went to find the Basilique de Notre-Dame de Port, a Romanesque church profiled in the Romanesque art museum in the tourism office. Unfortunately, it was en travaux so I couldn’t go in, but I was able to follow signs to climb some stairs where a teenage couple was hanging out to take some great pictures. It’s a beautiful church, but unfortunately many of the cool architectural details are best seen inside the church, not outside!

Then…I said I’m tired and my feet hurt so I went back to the hotel. Which is very nice, a good price, has a very nice breakfast buffet, and the most helpful and friendly concierge. I like it a lot, except for the fact that I’m thirty minutes from the stuff I want to see!!

Tomorrow I’m doing museums. There are at least two, one of which is two-in-one, so it’ll be like seeing three. Sort of. I would also like to find a really cool place for lunch that serves food I’m interested in eating and not plain boring French food.
I was woken this morning at 6:30am with a phone call. I didn’t recognize the number, but something told me to answer it. It was Ben. He wanted to know where I was. Once I said I was in Clermont, he said never mind, thanks, and left. He sounded really pressed. Obviously something was wrong, but if I can’t help him…I worried about him all day. His vacation plans were to visit his old host family in Rennes and then head to Krakow (you know, Poland) to visit a friend from home who’s studying there (I know, right?). So after not hearing anything all day, I texted him. No response. I texted Rocio. No response. I texted Blandine, who was sure to know if Ben was in trouble. Apparently he had forgotten his passport and Rocio brought it to Limoges, where I’m assuming Ben picked it up or something. I figured it was something about his passport. That’s so like him. I was just worried he was in trouble and got caught at Polish customs and was being detained or something. But apparently he’s ok. I’m just waiting for his text to say so. Another huge surprise – he doesn’t have any credit on his cell! Ah so annoying.

So vacation is nice because I forget how lonely I am. I realized something today. I need to stop thinking about how lonely I am, how sad I am that I’m away from my family, how homesick I am, because I still have six full months in France. That’s not going to change, so I better just get used to it. Suck it up.

I’m also starting my own personal French literature course. I’m about a third of the way through my first book. Hopefully I’ll have reason to keep reading it, if only wasting two hours in a café with a cute little drink to pass the time in between touristy things.

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