Sunday, 29 June 2014

Noooon, je ne regrette rien...

So, we're approaching the end. We're on the home stretch. I return to rainy old England in less than two weeks (where on earth has the time gone???).

I worked my final day as Kelly's stagiaire, and left the infamous coworking office behind (coworking to be said in a French accent). That's right, no more kissing 15 people before I can actually get to my desk, no more disguising the constant rustling of foil as I try to hide my chocolate addiction, no more getting laughed at for my subconscious sighing (I sigh when I'm concentrating apparently). 
Fond farewell to the office door.
I had a lovely dinner and night on the town with some of the more lively coworking members (i.e. my sort-of colleagues). I finally got to introduce the French (and Australian and American) group members to the wonders of Pimm's, following many conversations that went something like this:

Me (on looking outside and seeing the blazing sunshine): Aw, the weather's so lovely! Exactly the right weather for Pimm's

Coworker 1: Pimm's?

Coworker 2: You mean the biscuits?

Me (remembering that Pim's is a brand of biscuits/cakes in France): Er... no. It's a type of alcohol that you drink in summer with lemonade and fruit and stuff.

Coworker 3: But... what actually is it?

Me: ...

Coworkers: ...

Me: ... Er, it's Pimm's!

These people haven't even heard of scones either! There is a lot of work to be done in this country.
They know how to party in the Basque Country!
This last week has also involved much variation in the weather (blazing heat can change to pouring rain in a matter of seconds), singing at the Fête de la musique (traditional thing on the 21st June with loads of open-air concerts) with my church choir, and the arrival of the New Stagiaire: Alison.

Her arrival kind of snuck up on me, since Kelly and I had been working flat out on a huge translation project, and I'd barely had time to notice the days flying by. But suddenly Saturday arrived, and so did Alison. I didn't really know anything about her beforehand, except that she studies at Oxford and spent part of her year abroad in South America. So when I arrived home from the supermarket to find all her stuff moved in (did I mention we would be sharing a room?), I naturally attempted a detailed character analysis based on the clothes and books that had appeared on the hastily tidied other half of my room. Findings = inconclusive. I had to dash out again to the aforementioned choir concert. So it wasn't until first thing the next morning that we woke up in adjacent beds and made our awkward British introductions.

But turns out she ain't so bad really! (Whaddup Walsh!) Although we have been working together on translations at work this past week, and I get the impression Kelly thinks our discussions would come to blows if she didn't step in! (It's just an animated debate! Nothing to fret over!)

So that's nice.
"What are you doing?" "Oh, you're just going to make an appearance on my blog.."
(N.B. the rucksack on the bed is mine... I'm the worst roommate ever! Though actually I did paint her nails...)
But, sadly, nothing lasts forever. I'm leaving Patricia's today to free up the bed for a 16-year-old Spanish girl, and going to stay at Kelly's for a week. Soon I will have to actually walk more than a few paces to get the beach (madness!), and won't be surrounded by constant French and cries of "non, mais franchment!". Sad times indeed.

That reminds me, I should probably get packing!

A la prochaine, Anglet!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Making waves! (a.k.a. Zoe came to stay)

So, it's the end of another week in lovely BAB (abbreviation for the connected towns of Biarritz-Anglet-Bayonne - remember that! There might be a quiz...), and another week closer to my impending departure, about which my head is stuck firmly in the metaphorical sand. But we're not here to talk about that (or the equally-impending and equally head-in-sand-inducing year abroad essay deadline! Eep!). Today's topic is a lot more exciting! ZOE CAME TO VISIT!
That's right, this crazy lady!
Now, some may go as far as to call my excitement at this prospect a little over-exuberant, but bearing in mind my intense love for this girl (bordering on grounds for concern), combined with my relative lack of easily-accessible friends at the moment (something I totally took for granted as a student/language assistant), I'd say my excitement was pretty justified. Besides, if you look back to when Holly came to Germany, you'll see this over-enthusiasm is pretty typical for me. Some people might even call it endearing...

Anyway, last Thursday was the big day, and after a full day of counting down the hours, it was finally time for Patricia to drive me to the station to pick Zoe up. After much excitement-induced hopping around, taking blurry photos of the train, and happy-sighing (it's a thing), she finally stepped onto the platform and into my rib-shattering embrace. I think people around us probably assumed we'd been apart for 30 years, judging from the shrillness of our extensive squealing and cries of "No, I missed YOU so much!"

As we all made our way to the car, it soon became abundantly clear that my role as an interpreter would be all but essential. I'm told Patricia understands some English, but her level of speaking is pretty much limited to "hello" and "beach" and "breakfast". And Zoe's level of French, despite her best intentions, is a pretty similar level. (What? You had dissertation and essay deadlines so you couldn't learn the whole French language before coming??? EXCUSES EXCUSES ZOE!) This made conversations between the three of us on the way home (and all evening!) pretty hilarious. Ever tried explaining palaeontology in French or translating your friend's story about witnessing adult circumcision in Uganda? It's interesting. Though it turns out palaeontology can be explained by repeating the word 'dinosaur' with varying pronunciation till you get the right one.. (And the circumcision story was very much aided by hand gestures!) 

The next day was gloriously sunny, and we set off bright and not-so-early to explore beautiful Biarritz.
Zoe's reaction to the sun
My reaction...
Following a visit to the market (in which we bought bacon sandwiches from a lady who came from a village 20 minutes from Zoe's - small world!) and having acquired an appropriately French second-lunch of baguettes, goat's cheese and brie, we headed to the grande plage to soak up some sun (or cower from it in my case)! For the rest of the day, we mostly just wandered around (like true tourists) and managed to cover a good amount of Biarritz, a lot of which even I (embarrassingly) had never seen before, squeezing in enough beach/wine/picturesque-photo stops to satisfy our every desire.

Picturesque photo... 
Picturesque photo
The following day, we spent the morning exploring Bayonne, rather more successfully than my (accidental) first attempt. Though I must admit, as we meandered through the winding cobbled streets, my first impression remained the same: chocolate shops galore!!! One of the ones we went to had a whole wall of chocolate spreads in various flavours, and when we (of course) bought ALL THE FLAVOURS, the shop assistant gave us four free chocolate bars! Don't mind if we do...
Chocolate and banana spread = YES PLEASE!!!
We ambled in the sunshine to the impressive cathedral, and walked along the river to a huge market selling all sorts of fresh produce, among other things (I bought a Harry Potter book in French...). Zoe, to put it mildly, was loving it ("I love it Rachel, I want to live here forever!") And I have to say, it is really beautiful place.

...and market!
SEE! So pretty!

Anyway, after taking in as much prettiness as we could handle, and (of course) buying more cheese and baguettes at the market, we headed back to spend the rest of the day on the beach, swimming in the sea and stuffing our faces. It's a hard life!

The next couple of days were pretty jam-packed with many many fun times, including sunbathing (and shadebathing), dinner in the Biarritz lighthouse (non, mais franchement!), a pretty mean hangover following said dinner in the lighthouse (much wine + not much food + no water = I'm an idiot), dinner with Kelly and Lance (they are the best!), and having my wisdom tooth pulled out (the less said about that the better).
Pre-wine photo atop the lighthouse
We also spent much of the latter half of Zoe's stay wholeheartedly making the most of the beautiful weather, and my house's proximity to the ocean, by jumping waves in the Atlantic. If you've never tried this, I highly recommend it! Who needs a surfboard or a wetsuit when you can flail around in the shallows with neither and still have an awesome time!? We turned the whole thing into a game, attempting to guess the size of the approaching waves and ranking them on a scale of 1 ("did you feel something?") to 10 ("WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!"). Our accuracy levels were pretty varied, leading to many exclamations of "oh wow that looks like a 7... oh, actually it's more like a 4... wait, 6..." *giant wave splashes in face*

Sadly, it was all over far too soon, and it seemed like I'd hardly had time to blink before it was time to say our goodbyes. It all went way too fast, but at least I have some brilliant memories!

Here are just a couple more highlights...
The wall was warm, OK!?
Sacré bleu!
Just one important thing to add. It concerns puns, and we all know how seriously I take those! When Zoe had left, I told her I was sad she was so PHARE away (it means lighthouse in French.. it's funny, I swear!), and she responded with "I CAMEMBERT the separation". Zoe Lynes = pun trophy winner. Congratulations.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Coasting through life in France

Sea what I did there? Oooooooo

Breaking news: I'm still alive! And I've not fallen off the face of the earth or been forcibly denied internet access this whole time. Nope, turns out I'm just a lazy blogger. Secret's out.

But I think the real reason I've not been updating is because I've pretty much settled in here to the point where everything just feels pretty normal and un-blog-worthy. That's not to say that nothing has happened, just that everything's kind of settled into routine (mostly!), which I guess is a good thing. But nonetheless it's probably about time for a Rachel's-life-update, so here you are.

Where to start?... Oh yeah, I moved house! Long story short, kid got too much and I escaped. Lesson learned: kids don't make good housemates. (Maybe one day but not now!) So I've moved to Anglet (pronounced Onglette), which is adjacent to Biarritz, and am now living so close to the beach that I can get from lying in bed to standing in the sea in approximately 67 seconds (official tests to be conducted soon). Plus my new landlady cooks for me and does laundry! So let's just ignore the fact that it costs more than double the price for a much smaller space and concentrate on all the incredibly awesome stuff about it...  Like the fact that it's CHILD FREE!! What more could I want?!?! That's right, nothing.

So this isn't actually a great photo, but that's the beach, and that house with the triangle roof right next to it... that's right, you guessed it! :D
AND it's right next to a field of pretty wildflowers! <3
My lovely landlady/pretty-much-host-mum, Patricia, is so far turning out to be quite a character. As well as the fact that she never seems to stop cooking and cleaning unless she's asleep, and the fact that she keeps telling everyone that I'm an interpreter from London (close enough), she is also an incredible gossip. She loves to give her own Patricia commentary on what's happening on TV, next door, or in her employers' lives (she is employed by people to do housework), and I'm starting to notice certain phrases cropping up again and again. For instance, one of her favourites, when she's talking about something she thinks is unreasonable, is "mais, attends!" (literally: "but wait!", though I'd translate it as more of an "I mean, seriously?"). More favourites are "je te jure" (literally: "I swear to you") and "non, mais franchement!" ("no but really/in all honesty!"). I'm definitely going to know how to tell a sensationalist story in French by the time I leave! On the whole this place has been awesome for my French - I'm speaking it a lot in the evenings, plus watching French TV and listening to Patricia arguing with her daughter and scolding the dog. Shame none of that will come up in next year's oral exams...

Work is pottering along the same as ever, and has involved some pretty cool stuff, including doing the lettering for a couple of graphic novels and the scripts for some cartoon episodes (among a whole lot of other things). Plus a whole book on post-war French reconstruction architecture and design. Woop! And my boss continues to be lovely, and I continue to occasionally say things in French to the people who share our office. Good times all round.

I've been going to a lovely church in Biarritz too, as well as occasionally another one in Hossegor (nearby-ish town) called Surf Church which is in a bar on the beach and attracts all sorts of awesome people. Something quite surreal (and great!) about a bunch of surfers in wetsuits and rugby players coming in to listen to worship band. Pretty awesome!

I've also done a small amount of travelling, though nowhere near as much as I did as a language assistant (cushiest job ever!) and managed to make it as far as San Sebastian in Spain (since Biarritz is super close to the border). Well, I can safely say that it's a pretty place. I have a large number of photos testifying to that fact... But I won't bore you with too many here. Maybe just one or two...
This is right in the town centre you guys!
Probably helped that the weather was so lovely!
Wouldn't mind living here

Though I did come across this guy...  What?
Man sticking his head out on top of a baby's body and talking in a creepy squeaky voice...
Bizarre doesn't even cover it!
So yes, I think that's pretty much all I had to update on.

Oh, except that ZOE'S VISITING IN 2 DAYS AHHHH! Ahem, I'm fine (but prepare for excitement overload in my next post!)

À bientôt les amis <3

p.s. sorry about the terrible post title! I was going to go down the Life's a Beach route but HELLO CLICHÉ! So I just used that one to tide me over... (help I can't stop!)

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Week in the Life + Bus Troubles

So, I've been in France now for three weeks! Time's flying by so fast I can almost hear it!

Now, I realise I haven't mentioned too much about what my job is actually like. So, without further ado... Tah daaah! I've written an account of my first week as a translation intern for Third Year Abroad (though I had to cut about half the words out to stop it being monstrously long)... So, yeah! Here it is:

This success (I wrote a thing for the internet! Yay!) just about made up for a slightly faily experience last week.

I had intended to go to a church small-group to meet French people and generally make friends, something I had been slightly failing at until then. It didn't start till eight, so there was plenty of time to hop on the bus to the big Carrefour and do some shopping. Or so I thought. 

Forty minutes and many many pages of my book later, I realised something was wrong. I no longer recognised the names of the bus stops (despite having been to Carrefour many times), and everything was looking strangely industrial. I'd definitely missed the bus stop. No matter, I'd just get off and hop on the next one back.

The bus drove off after depositing me safely in Bayonne, and luckily enough I could see the bus I needed coming in the other direction. I went to cross the road, but stopped. Why miss out on this perfect opportunity to explore Bayonne? After all, I had been intending to go the past two weekends but somehow never made it. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity, especially since the weather was so lovely.

So I trotted off to explore Bayonne, which was absolutely lovely and will definitely be the subject of another blog post if I ever get round to going back there (on purpose this time). Sadly, I didn't even have my camera on me to take pictures! (Sorry if you were hoping to see any...) 

After half an hour of wandering around the picturesque alleyways, peering in the shop windows (I swear half the shops in Bayonne are chocolate shops!) and having a quick mosey round the impressive cathedral (it's MASSIVE!), I headed back to the bus stop, just in time to see a bus rounding the corner to the stop. I quickly noted the number, and checked the map. Yup, definitely going where I wanted to be. And I would even have time for a brief stop at Carrefour. Perfect!

Or not. Turns out that same bus goes in two (completely opposite) directions, but starting from that same bus stop. And you guessed it, I was on the wrong one. Lovely. So I sat looking at the scenery go by while it gradually dawned on me that I was heading completely the wrong way, and silently debating whether to hop off and wait for a bus in the other direction or wait till the end of the line and come back round. In the end I decided on the latter, and dutifully sat there as the bus trundled off into the middle of nowhere.

Finally (after what seemed like forever) the bus reached its terminus and started heading back into Bayonne, but not before the bus driver had given me a patronising 'we both know you're an idiot but never mind' grin in the rear-view mirror. Lovely.

Anyway, I did eventually get on the right bus home, but it was too late to go to Carrefour and definitely too late to go to the small group. Oops.

Buses 1 - 0 Rachel

On the plus side, here is a lovely photo of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where I went a couple of weekends ago for a picnic (pique nique) and got sunburnt.

[uh oh! computer doesn't want to upload the picture. It's pretty, I promise! Will update this soon... sorry!]

A bientôt <3

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Basque-Country Carnival

Let me start by boasting about an improvement in the weather... LOOK!
After! Not actually the same beach, but you get the idea.
So, I have now been working in France for two whole weeks! *gasp* I thought I would be seriously flagging by now after being softened up to the 12-hour week of a language assistant, but I have actually got into the flow of work and am really enjoying the placement. So yay!

But I'm not going to write about work. This post is about my interesting (and slightly bizarre) experience yesterday at the Biarritz Carnaval! I was a little miffed to be leaving Germany just before the Karneval in Cologne, so I'm glad to say this experience served to compensate a little.

Now, Biarritz is in the Basque country, so one might expect plenty of traditional folk dancing and Basque costumes going on. And you would be right. There were costumes and folk dancing galore. There was, however, a whole lot more to it than that!

My first inkling that something was going on in the city was hearing a weird rhythmic bell/drum beat whilst quietly minding my own business in a café. It turned out to be coming from a group of men dressed in sheepskins and pointy hats, with giant bells strapped to their backs, who marched rhythmically up and down outside the café window. Next came a whole procession of people in costumes (mostly involving paper streamers stuck indiscriminately onto hats, coats and skirts), followed by a road train. Obviously.
Sheep-men with bells
Also among the crowd were plenty of people wearing giant papier maché heads, some of them with slightly disturbing grimacing faces. Almost all of them seemed to be carrying sticks with small beanbag-style sacks hanging from them. The purpose of these was, as far as I could observe, to swing at passing children, who would then attack the bag with their toy swords. (Come to think of it, why did so many children have swords? Must be tradition...) The fancy dress ideas of the other procession members varied from overweight batman to entirely-wrapped-in-scarves, with a whole range of enthusiastic and not-so-enthusiastic participants in between. At the end of the whole parade came a slightly out-of-place-looking almost-rock band with electric guitars, bass, snare drum and accordion, all of them looking very French in their black berets.
One of the less-freaky specimens. Observe stick in hand...
In the meantime, I had received a text from my boss inviting me to one of the town's parks, where there would be more events and her god-daughter would be taking part in a hip-hop dance performance. On the way up there I spotted this wonderful gem:
It's a Battle Crêpes!!! (Or a crêpe battle, in case you hadn't worked that out!) The flyer instructed participants to bring half a dozen crêpes to the Parc Mazon for an epic battle... Only in France!

A crowd seemed to be gathering on the park's fronton court (apparently fronton is a sort of violent form of squash (the sport, not the vegetable) which people in this region are very keen on), so I headed that way and observed the aforementioned procession (minus train) gradually arrive and form a substantial crowd. After a few minutes milling around, we were all shunted to the sides, leaving space for the performances to start. As mentioned, hip-hop dancing ensued, with impressive results (my boss tells me they have a pretty successful club going). After this came some more traditional Basque folk dancing, accompanied by a group of rather shrill whistles/recorders/pipes. Part of the dancing involved some intricate footwork around a glass on the floor, which seemed to be a bit much for the performers, most of whom managed to break theirs. This left the coordinators to rush on and hurriedly sweep up the broken glass and replace it with a new one for the next dancer to break.
Hastily replacing the glass
Glass-breaking aside, however, most of the dancing was great, with some very impressive costumes.
Glass-breaking dancers before the glass-breaking occurred
Dancers in baggy shirts, veils and streamer wigs.
Then everyone descended on the court again (slightly worrying with all the broken glass lying around) and enjoyed the many delights on offer such as the bouncy castle, coffee and crêpes (crêpe-battle leftovers perhaps?), and kiddies' tug-of-war. I'm not sure there's anything cuter than seeing a tiny child in a unicorn onesie trying to take on her entire friendship group in a tug-of-war. Another cuteness-overload moment occurred when two tiny children who could barely walk, one in traditional Colombian costume (complete with hat) and one in a tiny tiger onesie, started holding hands and dancing around giggling. The cutest!
Unicorn-onesie had called for reinforcements by this time
After some more general milling around, people seemed to congregate around a small fenced-in area at the far end of the court, where a dummy-man made of clothes stuffed with newspapers was sitting in a chair. I forget what the point of this was, but I gathered from my boss's interpretation of the commentator that the man the dummy represented was supposed to have jumped into some water and made such a big splash that it flooded some important places... Plus he didn't pay for his drinks at a strip club. I'm slightly vague on the details.

But of course, he had to be punished. So they set him on fire, much to the trauma of all the observing children.
Commentator recites the numerous misdeeds. Newspaper man still unsure of his fate...
Three against one! Seems a little unfair...
Things aren't looking great for poor newspaper man
After all this came, of course, some middle aged ladies line-dancing to 'God bless Texas'.

And that, following a lovely meal at my boss's flat (she is the best), was my experience of Carnaval! Beats Cologne any day! I'm just sorry I never found the crêpe battle...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


I'm feeling too tired and boring to think up a punny post title today, but I will at some point, I promise!

So, as you probably guessed from the title of this post, I have officially arrived in my second year-abroad destination: Biarritz. "Where?" you ask. Good question. I had no idea either until I accepted the job here (about 3 weeks before my placement was due to start - last minute, anyone?), but thought I should probably look up where it was before attempting to travel there. (As you may have guessed from the last post, travelling there was quite an undertaking!) Biarritz is right on France's Atlantic coast, and right in the south, about 40km from the Spanish border. So far so good!

You might be forgiven for imagining a sunny seaside town with beautiful sandy beaches. That's certainly what I thought. And what google images led me to believe. Turns out that the sunny weather only happens in summer, and right now it is definitely still March. Biarritz is currently in the grips of the stormiest storm I've ever seen. Imagine constant rain, thunder and lightning, and gales to make you re-think your decision to accept a ride to work on the back of your colleagues definitely-blow-about-able moped. Umbrellas are a definite no-no. Sad times.
Bit different to how I imagined...
So much rain :( Let's hope my camera forgives me for taking it out in this weather!
But it's not all doom and gloom! Yesterday, I started my shiny brand-new job at a translation agency, and I have to say that so far I am loving it! Although it is a definite shock to the system working 9-5 (well, technically 9.30-5.30) when I've been used to working 12 hours a week as a language assistant, the work is so interesting that the time (so far) has flown by. While the thought of translating boring documents for a living has never exactly appealed to me, this job could not be more different. I'm translating things to do with culture and entertainment, like TV-show subtitles, cartoon scripts, literature, and BDs (Bandes Dessinées - a form of French comic book/graphic novel). Definitely more interesting than the stuff we do at uni!

Adding to the list of pros about Biarritz (the weather is the only real con at the moment, but it's a big one!) is my living situation. I'm staying with a friend of my work colleague's, along with her 3-year-old son. Now, I won't lie. The prospect of living with a 3 year old did not exactly fill me with joy. But, assured by the previous intern (who also lived there) that it wasn't a problem for her, I decided to take the plunge and just go for it. (Who was I to turn down an offer of accommodation which would mean less long-distance organisation on my part!?) So far it has been great! Oona, the lady I'm living with, is really friendly and relaxed, and she keeps offering me more things to make my room feel more like home. I got home today to find that she'd sneaked a rug, chair and lamp into my room. I'm certainly not complaining! What's more, her son is absolutely adorable (well, so far anyway!) I helped him put together some Lego yesterday, so hopefully that put me in his good books! Fingers crossed...

All in all, the transition to France has been much less painful than it could have been, although this could be partly due to the fact that I'm too busy with my sudden full-time job at the moment that I don't have time to think about much else!

I have noticed a few small differences though. So, in the same way that I did when I arrived in Germany, I think I'll list them here:
  • Kissing. It's a big thing. Whenever anyone arrives at the office they have to do the rounds and kiss everyone (once on each cheek, which I'm told is relatively few kisses compared with other parts of France!). Sometimes they even do this when they leave the office as well. That adds up to a lot of kisses! I think I prefer the Germans' handshaking. Much less awkward-potential.
  • No one here waits at the red man! My inner-German is scandalised.
  • Sugar. So much sugar. Cake everywhere... Bit of a contrast to the German salt-obsession. (Not complaining!) 
  • French - Here I am back in the oh-no-people-are-expecting-small-talk-and-I-have-no-idea-what-to-say situation. So many times I have bitten back (or not quite bitten back) an ach so! which (sadly) is only met with confusion here. Darn those Frenchies for not speaking German!
  • Weird milk. It tastes different. I do not approve.
I'm sure there will soon be many more things to add to this list! I will keep you posted.

Until then, à bientôt!

Let's just hope the weather improves!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet!

So, I’ve officially come to the end of my German placement, and have bid (Bidden? Bidded? Bade???) a teary farewell to the land of sauerkraut and schnitzel, to embark on my three-day drive to Biarritz in south-west France.

Now, anyone who knows me at all well will know how terrible I am at goodbyes, and therefore what a generally traumatic experience these past couple of weeks have been. I hesitate to employ the cliché ‘emotional rollercoaster’, but let’s just say my emotional levels have been experiencing a metaphorical Alton Towers.

I barely had time to draw breath in between all the goodbyes to different people, which ranged from the slightly-anticlimatic to the full-on therapy-inducing tear-fest. Not only that, the past couple of weeks have been filled with ‘final’ things. The final time at Vapiano’s (how I’ll miss you!), final time seeing most of the other assistants (how I’ll miss you even more!), final trip to Bielefeld, final coffee in Beat Café, final cycle up that dreaded hill… I fear that my over-sentimentality may have gone into overdrive, however, as I found myself sighing wistfully over my last bus ride, my last piece of post, my last trip to Netto and my last time seeing that ear-ringed ticket collector on the Bielefeld train. Possibly a little excessive…
Leaving night - I know we don't look that sad, but I can assure you we're dying inside.
One thing I will genuinely miss a huge amount is my town itself. I remember vividly when I first read the name Lemgo, being thoroughly non-plussed by the totally unknown-ness of this tiny town. Couldn’t I be in some buzzing, big city like Cologne or Düsseldorf, rather than a place whose name inspires only confusion, even among Germans?

But my scepticism didn’t last for long. The minute I arrived, I fell completely in love with the place. And there’s nothing like knowing you only have a short time left to make you appreciate somewhere all the more. Last weekend I had a visit from some friends (the lovely Hannah and Hywel), and we spent most of the time taking in the quaint gabled houses, cobbled streets and abundant greenery that makes Lemgo such a lovely place to live. 
It didn’t hurt that we experienced glorious sunshine the whole two days. (I even managed to get a bit sunburnt… In FEBRUARY!) It’s safe to say that I’m very sad to leave.

So, thus concludeth my time in Lovely Lemgo. Following the final ‘final’ goodbyes to my school (so sad), my host family (so so sad) and my brilliant Lemgo-buddy Carly (so so so sad), at last I was ready to depart.

That brings me to here, a budget hotel on the industrial outskirts of Tours (wherever that is), on the second full-day of driving down to Biarritz. Very soon (woe is me) I will have to start all over again, with a new city, a new job, new people and (horror of horrors) a new language. Although, thank goodness, I now have a job and accommodation to go to (which was not the case 3 weeks ago)! Time to grit my teeth and get on with it I think. How bad can the south of France be anyway…?

Auf wiedersehen, Lemmy! Wir sehen uns bestimmt wieder <3 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

An Amster-dam good time

Title credit goes to Chase, unashamedly pinched by me, since I am obviously unable to resist a good pun.

So, in true year abroad fashion, and because I am currently in the grips of oh-wow-I-only-have-a-month-left-let's-make-the-most-of-it syndrome, this past weekend involved an impromptu (for me anyway!) trip to Amsterdam, courtesy of the ever-efficient-and-reliable Deutsche Bahn. On Thursday night I (along with a sizeable group of other language assistants) threw caution to the wind and hopped on an evening train to the Venice of the North, fully equipped with appropriate supplies of the snack and beverage variety and enough classic British (and American) banter to see our train carriage gradually emptying throughout the journey. Stereotype fulfilled! (Oops)

When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by the hostel (Flying Pig Uptown Hostel, in case anyone's curious), which boasted what felt like several thousand flights of stairs, and its own cat (among other things of course!).
Hostel's cat was unimpressed by our hilarious prank.
Good advice in the hostel's stairwell.
I think this was about 4 flights up

On Friday, our first full day, we wandered around for what seemed like eternity trying to find breakfast, before settling less-than-reluctantly for the Hardrock Cafe (no regrets). It was good. In the afternoon we went to a torture museum, which was pretty much just a display of torture equipment and explanations (and artistic interpretations) of their usage, all accompanied by bizarrely soothing music. Gruesome. That afternoon was just filled with general wanderings, visits to touristy souvenir shops (naturally), a brief perusal of an impressive cheese shop, and, to top it all off, a visit to Wagamama's (Yeah, Amsterdam has Wagamama's! Take that Germany!). As you can see, we fully embraced the culture of... er... Japan.
Some clogs in a touristy shop. I think these were about my size.
Saturday was a day filled with culture and that associated smugness which comes with having spent the day looking at art, history and architecture and actually enjoying it. First off was the Van Gogh museum, which, while bringing back happy reminiscences of a certain Doctor Who episode, was also really interesting and insightful. I absolutely loved looking at all the paintings and learning the story behind them, seeing how his style developed, and (of course) buying copious amounts of postcards of the paintings from the museum gift shop. (I have a postcard-buying addiction. It's a serious problem. But hey, these postcards were really nice!)
Just a small selection...
After a second round in Wagamama (don't judge us), we embarked on a boat tour of Amsterdam's canals, which took us the scenic route through the city, giving us beautiful views of the city's unique houses. The boat trip even came with a recorded accompaniment in the form of a cringey 'couple' (definitely actors) telling us all about the local history and architecture, as well as certain random details of their lives. Bonus!
Pretty view of some houses
I took about a hundred identical pictures to this... Seriously, this place is so beautiful!
Our day of culturedness was topped off with a visit to the Anne Frank house, a tour of which we had thankfully booked beforehand (the queues were massive!). Though I'd read the diary of Anne Frank years ago, the story had never really struck me quite as much as when I could see all the rooms they lived in, hear details of what happened to them in the camps, and read extracts of the diary in context. The museum is so beautifully done, letting the rooms in the house where they all lived and the diary extracts speak for themselves. It's so moving and I highly recommend a visit.

That evening we mostly just wandered around getting soaked in the rain, trying to find a supermarket, missing our tram stop twice (that's a skill right there), seeing the red light district (it's not a nice place), and playing the Rennie/country game (don't ask) into the small hours with hilarious results.

On Sunday, after a bit of shopping, wandering around sighing about how we all love Amsterdam and want to move there, and a visit to the best hot chocolate shop in the world (it's official), a very tired bunch of language assistants got back on a train bound for Minden (city of dreams), and were greeted by SNOW(!!) when we got back to good old Deutschland. The icing on the cake of a fantastic long-weekend!
Bis zum nächsten Mal, liebe Kumpels!