Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nouveau boulot!

Yes, I have a new job! Well, not yet, but come November 1st, I'm out of here and down to the French Alps!!

To be exact, Chamonix, here:

Agrandir le plan

Nicely located for Switzerland and Italy, should I so desire. It's a town of about 10,000, plus hordes of tourists, on the side of Mont Blanc and features lots of snow and a buzzing nightlife, or so I'm told. Wikipedia has more, for the interested.

My job is office admin - goodbye to kids and customer service, woohoo! The interview involved French tests, and I will (apparently) have to use it, so fingers crossed I'll cope. I'm going to be working with 4 or 5 others (I think), I get my own room, board, and the princely sum of some 700 pounds per month, plus free boots, skis, lift hire etc. So maybe I'll learn to ski like a champion, or maybe not since I have to work 6 days a week or so. I'll be there until April, no time off for Xmas I'm afraid, but any friends who may want to visit get a discount, it's still probably hideously expensive though. I should get my contract through within the next couple of weeks, so I'll keep you all posted as to the finer details.

Yay, snow!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Staff Party

A mere handful of the literally hundreds of snaps from our epic staff party. Be thankful you don't have to witness the many instances of baguette abuse!

Helen, Sophia and me

Moi, pissed? Never!

The girls get some ink

Don't let the facial expression fool you, Mark's lovin it. Who do I look like in this photo, btw?

Yes, I am straddling Jay here

See, I wasn't the worst one! Well, at least of the photos I'm posting on my blog!

More proof that I'm not the only one who gets pissed and takes compromising photos!

Don't I look sweet and innocent - must be secretly up to something!

The Chef de Cuisine and the Chef de Chateau - and very grown-up they look too

Jay and Mark do the Magic System "Ki Dit Mie" dance - everything stops and we all do the dance if this song comes on. Video on YouTube for interested parties - just search "Ki Dit Mie"

Me and a slightly frightened-looking Al

Alice shows us how the popular "big fish, little fish, cardboard box" is done

Me and Remy, the utterly manic and chipmunk-esque French chef, prime source for my knowledge of naughty French words

Mark, Jay, me and John

Sophia, me, Helen and Alice

Okay, one instance of baguette abuse - Jay was not pleased when she realised Christophe was behind her at this moment!

Me and Alice, and another well-placed wine bottle

Now, I'm not saying this is a great photo of me... But they allow this man to work with children? Seriously? A great pic of my boss Shrek

The whole party team, minus Christophe (taking the photo) and Mark 1 who was there for a while - but his twin is doing stand-in duties. John, Patricia's husband, Patricia, Sophia's dad, Ben, Alice, Jay, Laura, me, Al, Sophia, Remy; next row, Patricia's two sons, Helen, Mark, Nathalie and toddler son in front

The Chateau ladies, version 3.0 (or something) - Helen, Sophia, Alice, Jay, me and Laura. Looking at two different cameras as you may have noticed

Helen, Alice and Ben

At long last - proof that our boss, Christophe, possesses elbows. Seriously, boiling hot or freezing cold the man is NEVER out of his fleece!

Me & Jay - you can tell this is early in the evening as my hair is not yet *quite so* insane

Me and Alice

Mark, John (Mark 1's twin brother), Al - dressed as a Brit abroad or something, and Sophia

A truly scary photo of window-licker Mark

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Londres

After a 5 1/2 hour journey over, Alice and I arrived in London yesterday afternoon with time to spare for a wee bookshop visit (where her sister works) and a swing by the Canada/New Zealand shop (hello Rashuns, L&P, Buzz Bars and Pixie Caramels, oh yeah) before her bus. After that, it was off to the flat of my long-suffering sister, just in time for lunchy munchies. Well, dinner, at any rate. Dinner was at a fancy and tasty restaurant, although our salads were filled with mushy bread...

Today was the big interview, and when I say big, I mean big. It lasted for about 6 hours, including a "make a giraffe with paper cups and newspapers" exercise - our one failed miserably, but everyone in the entire world surely knows by now that it's how you work as a team that matters, not the structural stability of your giraffe; a pesentation in French (I was actually one of the better ones, score!); a written French test (hmmm I think I did aiight); a problem-solving exercise (e.g. "a hire car has broken down, what do you do?"); and a task where you had to add up sums and convert them from euros to pounds etc. Lucky I "borrowed" a trusty calculator from work! I think that all went pretty okay... Then came the individual interview, which also seemed to go fine, although there wasn't much opportunities for me to really state a case for getting the job, it was all rapid-fire pointless "name a time when you've been pissed off with a colleague and what you did" type questions. I tried to play the "I already work in the tourism industry in France" card as much as possible, so let's hope it gets me somewhere. Will hear by the end of the month, so that's all good. I realised about 10 pm tonight that I had been wearing my top backwards all day... Honestly, this is not as stupid a mistake as it sounds, it's one of those tops where it's easily done... Jess didn't notice or anything. But still, d'oh!

Tonight Jess and I went out to dinner at the local gastropub, and may I say OH MY GOD, the swordfish I had was just the best ever. Mmmm tasty. And shout outs to my always generous sis, cheers!

I also picked up lots of English books and even some aimed at improving my French, so hopefully will be stocked up for the next coupla months at the chateau. Tomorrow the mission is to pick up all my fav English treats before the reverse journey back home, to my empty empty room without Alice. Yes, having my own room will be nice, but I'll miss her :(

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My Chateau home

I took some pics of the chateau and surroundings while out on one of my walks in the countryside - further proof of the "France is 90% fields" theory - it's true, I tells ye! This was, btw, a rare sunny day, believe you me! Enjoy. I also added photos to the posts below "Brussels sprout", "Les amis de la famille", "Vive la revolution" and "Lille again" if you care to check 'em out. Nothing much has been happening of late, only worked 1 1/2 hours today then we hopped to Lille for a spot of shopping, I bought two tops even though I shouldn't have. I also learned that there is no French word for 'piggy-back', the fools! Things are still quiet here, next thing of note is the trip to London for a few days next week... Have plenty of more photos to upload, from my last trip to Paris and the staff party, so stand by for those.

One of the little roadside shrines that dot the landscape

Looking back down the road - you can see the Manoir building at the end of the road and the Tour is visible in the back left as well

Looking across the fields to the noted "Tour d'Ebblinghem", the only landmark of any consequence for miles around and a sure sign you're almost back at the Chateau

Country road, take me home... The back road of the Chateau, where we go for walks sometimes. Mostly quiet, but I was out for a stroll the other week and a car came by and whacked me one on the arm with its wing mirror, cheers!

The prettiest Chateau building, the Manoir

Monday, August 06, 2007

I'll always have Paris

Statues in the portal of Chartres Cathedral. I love that one's just randomly looking in the wrong direction. It irritates me that people think medieval people were just all sombre and focussed on God exclusively - they DID have a sense of humour, read the literature! Or just look at this photo and realise that they were real, live people just like you and me, and the culture was different but they were still human beings in the end! Do me a favour and go pick up Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale" - in translation, if you must, and see if you don't laugh. Sorry, rant over...

Looking down the - apse? nave? - towards the West Window

Our Lady of the Pillar, Chartres Cathedral

Supposedly a fragment of the Virgin Mary's veil - I may not believe that, but it still has an impressive provenance

Windows in Chartres Cathedral

The Window of the Blue Virgin

Close-up on one of the Rose Windows

One of the Rose Windows in Chartres

The South (North?) Rose Window

The North (South?) Rose Window

The West (,) Rose Window at Chartres, with the 12th C Jerusalem Windows below

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral from a distance

At least one of the fountains was (partially) working at Versailles

I like how I look super sneaky here - just the effect of looking at the camera's viewfinder rather than straight ahead, 'fraid I'm not raelly being naughty

Here I am in the Petit or Grand Trianon, can't for the life of me remember which

Mirrors: useful tools for the solo traveller

I mise myself en scène in the Grand (or possibly Petit) Trianon

The prospect from the back steps

A big hall in Versailles - the paintings are all of famous French military victories (obviously pre-20th C then, ha ha)

The ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors

In the Hall of Mirrors - see how the statues fade into reflections towards the back

In the Hall of Mirrors

Heading into the Hall of Mirrors

A view out of one of the palace windows

A room in Versailles, complete with hordes of tourists - for authenticity

One of the magnifique ceilings at Versailles

The not-particularly-impressive façade at Versailles, complete with the nasty dust/gravel so beloved to the French

The gates of Versailles

The Tour after it commenced twinkling away - it's reflected in a big pond, looks really nice but unfortunately all attempts at capturing the effect in a photo failed miserably

Me and my hostel buddies

Me by the Eiffel Tower - making friends results in images that say "I've been there" rather than "I possibly stole this off the net", score

The Eiffel Tower by night - well pleased with the crispness of that image

A random grave in Père Lachaise

Mr. Morrison

Since I was meant to be leaving the chateau shortly, I had booked several days of holidays to use up my leave, and so it was off to Paris with me last Wednesday.

I checked into the hostel, which was pretty central, right by the Place de la République, and set off straight downtown to chercher some English books at the big Forum des Halles shopping centre. That done, I thought I'd head off to check out Sainte Chappelle cathedral (on Tiana's recommendation), but upon being greeted by a long line I changed my mind and walked back to the hostel instead.

The hostel, as I found out upon arrival, was very conveniently located for one of Gwan's favourite activities - necrotourism. I don't know if any future grave-snuffling excursions can top the embalmed corpse of Moscow, but as cemetourism sites go, the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is definitely right up there with the world's finest. People hawk maps outside, but I chose to cunningly take digital photos of the maps and grave guides displayed at the entrance, and then tried to navigate my way around the giant cemetery. I must say, a cemetery complete with its own roundabouts is a real achievement! Finding my first port of call, the grave of one James Douglas Morrison, was pretty easy - once you got in the vicinity it was only a matter of following the crowd. Last I heard, the cemetery was having all sorts of problems with rowdy Doors fans drinking and desecrating surrounding graves and so forth - this has apparently been dealt with in the form of a fence around the grave and what appeared to be a full-time guard. In fact, when I was there some middle-aged long-haired guy in a Doors t-shirt was having an argument with the guard. I couldn't quite catch what he was saying, but I felt free to imagine an exchange something along the lines of "I'm not going to let the man stop me honouring Jim's memory however I want dude! Fascist peeeeg" [Neil from The Young Ones stylees] - or whatever the French hippie stoner equivalent may be. The grave itself was pretty small and non-descript, although it did have a poster of Jim on it - someone slipped past the guard, perhaps? Finding the other dead celebrities was more tricky - well, as it happens, in fact impossible. I next went in search of Oscar Wilde, but the map only gave you the section they were buried in, with a blob to indicate approximate location. I was all alone in this portion of the graveyard, so perhaps old Oscar isn't very sought after these days. After a lot of fruitless pacing up and down between the rows, I gave up and went to look for Heloise and Abelard - mostly because in my head they're pretty much fictional characters, so it would be interesting to see their graves and go "wow, they really were real people after all". Sadly, although I located Heloise and Abelard Lane, their grave eluded me as well. Perhaps I should have bought one of the graveyard maps outside, they might have been more informative. By this time I was worn out with all the walking in the hot sun, so retired to the hostel for my customary afternoon nap.

After my nap and dining alone, I returned to the room to find it freshly occupied by my roommates, an Australian and two Argentinian sisters. We got chatting, and as they were just about to head out to see the Eiffel Tower by night, I decided to accompany them. And very pretty it was, too. Just as we were about to leave they started it a-twinkling away, twas lovely. They were all nice girls as well, although none of them spoke French and hence they all chatted away in English at about 200 decibels, which made me cringe quite a lot. I always try to do my best to Frenchify myself and not look obviously like a tourist. I gave some punky looking girl on the street 2 € mostly because she asked me for it in rapid-fire French instead of assuming I wouldn't understand and going for the English option. Frankly she probably has more money than I do, but meh.

On the metro on the way to the Eiffel Tower I was hit on quite assiduously by the guy sitting across the aisle from me. Once again, I started chatting to him just for the opportunity to speak French, and because he repeatedly complimented me on how well I spoke. Unfortunately, he rapidly turned super creepy, including secretly filming us on his mobile phone (seriously, mobile phone cameras need to be banned!) After numerous attempts to avoid exchanging phone numbers ("I have no cellphone", "It's too expensive to call you from NZ" [no way was I admitting I lived in France], "I don't have a pen" and just plain "No, stop asking") I eventually took his phone number, after he borrowed a pen from what appeared to be a homeless man, in a strange turn of events. (What does a homeless man want a pen for?) He gave me, in fact, not only his phone number but his address - what does he think, I'm going to turn up on his doorstep? Strange man. Needless to say, I won't be calling him.

On the next day, along with the excitement of roller cops, there was also the excitement of Versailles. Versailles, I must say, is not particularly impressive from the outside - not as pretty as the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo or the Schoenbrunn Palace, certainly (ah, travelling gives you so many opportunities to make these pretentious little asides, eh). I had plenty of time to look at it, too, since it took about half an hour in the queue for tickets. The main issue in the queue was that the queueing area was very wide, so constant vigilance was required to prevent queue encroachment. Queue encroachment is a much more subtle crime than plain queue jumping - it's when there's an ill-defined queueing space and the people behind you attempt to gradually pull up beside you and then in front of you. Airport check-in queues are notorious for this sort of queue behaviour, I find. Plus the French are rubbish at queues, although I don't know how many of my fellow queuers were, in fact, of the français persuasion.

Once inside, it was certainly very pretty. The Hall of Mirrors was not quite as mirrory as might be imagined - although they have been recently (and still are partially being) restored, so they are a lot nicer than I've heard they were in the past - not all clouded and so forth now. I suppose if it was just floor-to-ceiling mirrors the effect would be more 'aerobics room' than 'royal palace' anyway. I think I took too many photos and stuff - I feel taking photos can actually prevent you from really looking where you are - you're just so busy snapping away that you're only paying attention to the tiny little screen on your camera and not the real room in front of you. But still, I always feel compelled to capture it for posterity. Don't know why, since I'm sure the internet is full of identical pics these days, but there you go. The rest of the grounds and smaller palaces and buildings were nice as well, although the fountains only work on weekends, which is a real crock if you ask me. Marie Antoinette's little estate, which comprised a sort of Disney-style farm and village was cute, but I can imagine if I were a marauding peasant I would be well pissed off to see her clean neat little mini play farm when I was up to my elbows in dirt and hard work every day. I can't actually remember if marauding peasants were a big feature of the French Revolution - despite the fact that I did a whole university paper on it, d'oh. After a record 6 hours at Versailles, it was back to the hostel and I went out with the girls in my room for dinner again before falling in to bed.

The next day, the Argentinians had to get up at 5 to catch their bus on to Amsterdam. Fair enough, these things happen in a hostel - but I question whether it's actually necessary to turn on the light and converse in Spanish for half an hour if you're getting up at that hour in the morning. Grrrr! I got up at 6.45, having asked the Australian to wake me up on her way out. I was hoping to get away to Chartres early in the morning, but I wound up missing the 8.15 train out by a few minutes and having to hang around the gare for another hour for the next one. However, it was well worth it because Chartres cathedral is just as amazing as you might imagine. I had imagined it in the middle of a field for some reason - probably because I read some sort of "Building a Medieval Cathedral" as a geeky child and it was in fact out in the middle of nowhere at one point. Still, it's the inside of the cathedral that is the really impressive part. Acres of original stained glass, some dating back as far as the 12th century, with the 3 amazing rose windows and dozens of other windows. And they're all so gorgeously medieval, it's great. There's also a fantastic carved choir screen and the outside porches are covered with stone carvings and statues as well. But, at the risk of being repetitive, it is really all about those windows. Photos to follow, but I fear they're going to be mostly grainy/blurry and crap and can't really convey how pretty they are, you'll just have to all visit for yourselves...

Anyway, that was that for my trip away. Friday night we had drinks back here, Saturday night went out to a club. I had Saturday off as well, very pleasant day spent lying around in the sun here at the chateau until the others had finished work, then in the late afternoon we went out to Dunkerque (Dunkirk) for a sunbathe and a paddle on the famous beach. Can't imagine it packed with boats and soldiers and so on - with the tide in, as it was, there's a very narrow strip of beach for the amount of people who must have been there. Probably picked up all sorts of diseases merely from dipping my feet in the Channel, but it was nice, the water was fairly warm and there was not a single cloud in the sky, lovely.

Tonight is our staff party, so everyone's planning a pretty full-on night, followed by a day off for everyone tomorrow, so hangovers dependant, we might go out for a proper excursion somewhere tomorrow. Unfortunately the weather has turned cold and rainy again, typical since we're meant to be having a barbeque in the nature!