Merci Beaucoup Thursday, Jun 17 2010 

I have agonized over how to begin the end of this adventure. I have found that I have the same emotional ties over writing this blog in the same way as I would have with a book I don’t want to end. But like all good things, it must end, and as Fyodor Dostoevsky says in The Brothers Karamazov, “To a new life, new places, and no looking back!”

Thank you to GOD who was, is and continues to be faithful in spite of my faithlessness and loves you and I more than we can possibly conceive.

I owe thanks to so many wonderful readers, faithful in encouragement when I was down, sharing joy with me when I was ecstatic, praying for me when I was subject to fear.

Thank you to Molly DesRoches, who, in spite of my neurotic breakdowns, stuck with me through thick and thin and helped me to see the brighter side of things.

Thank you to my family who prayed, sent care packages, called and loved me from 6,000 miles away.

Thank you to my aunt and uncle who had chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk waiting for me when I landed in Minneapolis, not to mention a warm bed and boundless hospitality.

Thank you to the wonderful, amazing, intelligent, patient and kind teachers without whom I would never have the language skills I possess now.

Thank you to my classmates for making the world an exponentially smaller place.

Thank you to Laura Trude and Laura Vein (aka Laura the Chef) for coming to visit me overseas. It means so much to me to have such intelligent, beautiful women care enough to drop everything to visit.

Thank you to ALL the students at the Aumonerie, specifically Marthe, Francois, Thinh, Louis, Jean Christophe, Guillaume, Benedicte, Pierre and Jean Baptiste who made me always feel welcome and, with their love, helped me grow in my language as well as in my faith.

Thank you to Mary Elise Holmgren, without whom I’m sure I would never have had the social circle I now possess.

Thank you to the Arneberg-Larson grant for the generous scholarship which helped fund this adventure.

Thank you to my French advisor and instructor, Dr. Sarah Mosher and the Office of Study Abroad at the University of North Dakota.

Thank you to the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie for their help and accommodation.

And thank you, all of you, for making this the most enjoyable writing experiences of my career. The next adventure is just around the corner, and I am excited to share it with you. You can follow my writing at a new blog called “His Glorious Undertaking” and see where life leads me next.

“And now, unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless and with great joy– to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!” Jude 1:24-25

Kelli Bren

Numbers Tuesday, Jun 15 2010 

While I sat in my bare little dorm room in Caen, I came to realize that almost my entire existence while overseas was dominated by numbers. Now that the experience is over, I thought I would share them with you so you can enjoy them too.

7,000- Number of grams of Nutella Hazelnut Spread purchased and consumed
5- Number of countries visited
240- Number of hours spent in a classroom
4- Number of times my financial skin was saved by a dispersion of money by the University
1- Number of scholarships received
18- Number of masses attended in Eglise St. Pierre
21- Number of days I thought I’d die of pneumonia
1- Number of beer types deemed remotely ingestible
5- Number of loads of laundry done over a span of 4 1/2 months
6,000- Number of  times I deeply desired a Swiffer
4- Number of care packages from Mom and Daddy
17- Number of cards from the USA
11- Number of awkward shirtless, gown-less chest x-rays taken (a group total)
10- Number of scarves added to wardrobe
2- Number of visible melt-downs in a classroom
100- Number of baguettes purchased
5- Number of blush-causing faux-pas
2- Number of visitors from the USA
4- Number of 8 € phone cards purchased to call home
16,000- Number of grams of pasta purchased from Carrefour
Infinity- When I’ll be hungry for pasta again
7- Number of minutes between trams
4- Number of teachers
1- Number of times caught pass-less on tram
2- Number of times the “stupid American” card was voluntarily put into play
70- Number of trips to a patisserie expressly for gluttonous purposes
55- Number of practice DELF tests
36- Number of seeds planted in hopes of flowers
0- Number of survivors
1- Number of WWII 550 KG bombs found on campus
40- Number of trains taken
5- Number of minutes it takes to get to class in a dead sprint
7- Number of pretend boyfriends accumulated
200- Number of tram rides
50- Number of times voltage converter was dropped and did not break
250- Number of handouts in class
1- Number of 50 € stamps purchased for taxation purposes
1,200- Number of pictures taken
40.5- Number of pairs of seins in Nice at the topless beaches
2- Number of trains taken in the wrong direction
22- Number of flavors of gelato tasted within a 24 hour window of opportunity
10- Number of times I was the recipient of random acts of a French stranger’s kindness
83- Number of blog posts
0- Number of regrets
Innumerable- Number of individual people to whom I owe thanks

[Please stick around for the finale post and link to my new blog coming very soon!]

Mmmm… Saint-Malo, Mont-Saint-Michel and Mutton! Wednesday, May 19 2010 

Sometimes when I begin entries such as the following, I have to struggle to convey how fully indescribably beautiful the sight was without being a mini-Rick Steves. The two places I have to tell you about are so fantastic that the only way to truly appreciate them is to visit them yourself.

Our rented car!

I hopped in a rented French car with my Italian friends Maura Talozzi, Valentina Graziosi and Stefano Laboni. I will tell you up-front that I was scared brainless because of several reasons. I was 1) traveling to a place I’d never been with 2) people I hardly knew 3) in a car driven by Italians who have a bad reputation for driving habits. I was thrilled to find that all my worries were completely irrational as we drove 140 km (about 90 miles) to Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel laughing and speaking in French and Italian.

A panoramic shot of Saint-Malo. (Not work by yours truly!)

Saint-Malo, an ancient city in Brittany, is tucked into protective walls that look like a medieval take on inner city housing. The ramparts are no longer used to keep people out, and we rambled alongside the beautiful walls to gaze on the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (Mont-Saint-Michel Bay). The city is home to more seafood restaurants per capita than any other place in the world, and Maura and I longed for les huîtres (oysters) when we smelled the sweet, salty air coming off the baie.

We enjoyed our lunch in a park surrounded by ancient buildings and hungry birds and then said au revoir to Saint-Malo, headed for Mont-Saint-Michel!

Beautiful lady! My friend Maura, perched on the ramparts of Saint-Malo

Beautiful aqua water of Saint-Malo and Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Ramparts of Saint-Malo. Right behind what looks like rowhouses is centre ville (downtown)!

Situated just between Brittany and Basse-Normandie, there is a small island that until about the year 700 AD was called Monte Tombe (Tomb Mountain). Work began on a monastery after the Archangel Michael appeared to the Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. In 933, William Duke of Normandy (and later known as “the Conquerer”) annexed the little island and its monastery. Ducal patronage helped expand the monastery for many centuries following the Norman Conquest (which was depicted by the Bayeux Tapestry and in which Mont-Saint-Michel has a prominent role!). [Click here if you need a refresher course on William the Conquerer and his cool tapestry!]

Beautiful, beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel by night. (I did not take this picture either!)

The abbaye has resisted invasion after invasion over the course of its 1,300 year existence. Its natural fortification of water, quicksand and unnaturally fast-moving fog-cover and tidal swells seem to be divinely placed. In the Hundred Years War, although the English failed to capture the abbaye itself, they did capture the area and granted safe passage to pilgrims in exchange for payment. People of all walks of life paid homage to the mountain and its safety, many drowning in the quickly rising tides, sneaky quicksands and strange weather patterns associated with the area.

Warnings posted on the beach about the quicksand and quickly-flooding high tides.

The walls and streets are steeped in history as are many places in France. Molly said it best when she said in response to one of my offhanded remarks, “Well yeah, Kelli… France is fairly tripping over itself with history,” which I remembered with startling clarity when I tripped numerous times over the ancient, hand-laid cobblestone steps and streets of the village. The village of Mont-Saint-Michel has a grand population of 46 people. While most of the workers in the dozen cafes and tourist shops live in Pontorson, a small city 6 miles south of the Mont, a few people actually live right on the Mont itself along with a few monks who live in the abbaye.

Mont-Saint-Michel, the way I saw it today.

The busy cobblestoned streets packed with pilgrims, tourists and very overpriced omlettes!

The landscape is marked by very gently rolling collines (hills), dotted with the black-faced sheep and dairy cows who lazily roam les collines and the damp marshes. The sea that soaks the land twice a day at high tide makes the ground naturally salty and in turn grows tangy, salty grasses. When the sheep graze, they themselves become salty. Therefore, it’s completely honest to say that every Breton shepherd has a herd of bona  fide pre-seasoned lamb chops roaming around on the marshes of Mont-Saint-Michel, completely oblivious to the fact that their diet of grasses is making them one of the most sought-after dishes in Brittany!

Looking through the ramparts of Mont-Saint-Michel to the salty marshes below

Me, overlooking the marshes and the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Look at all those sheep!!

While I got to know my new friends the Italians and said “O la vache” (“holy cow!”) and “très joli!” (“very pretty!”) more times than I could count, I found that there was no place on earth quite like Mont-Saint-Michel. The sun warmed my back and danced across the water in the baie, the wind kissed my cheeks, and I watched les goellas (gulls) drift lazily on the updrafts from the sea. I was perfectly, 100% contente and thankful.

To learn more about Mont-Saint-Michel and its almost limitless history lesson, get a lamb-chop and click here.

To learn more about the beautiful little port town of Saint-Malo, click here.