Monday, July 30, 2007

Fun photo times abounty

Kathryn's leaving do, a good time had by all! And yes, I know that top shows sweat really badly!

Alice, Kathryn and I salute the French flag to the tune of 'Nouveau Français'

Mark gets creative with Mike's forehead - unfortunately Mike cunningly deleted the photo of the final result

Mark is WAY too into that!

Me and the girls get our groove on on the bar

More bartop shenanigans

Me and Kathryn in an artsy angled soft-focus shot. Or just a shot taken by a drunk person?

Je m'appelle FATAL! If you didn't watch the Fatal Bazooka clip I posted some time back, this will mean nothing to you. Just marvel at the fact that I wrote the word 'fatal' upside down on my own boobs whilst drunk!

The boys shake leurs booties

Team 13! Me and Alice, my lovely roommate, spell out our room number with pride

The chateau ladies on the couch - me, Alice, Kathryn, Charlene and Helen, Jay on top

I love the expression of terror on Kathryn's face here!

At least life's not boring...

During my trip to Brussels last week I received, by email, the wonderful news that my Project Poland 2007, which I had thought was pretty much set to go, has been cancelled, due to that beloved institution, the EU, refusing funding.

Soooo... come about two weeks and I have no job and a plane ticket back to NZ, so what's a girl to do? I can't say I've 100% made up my mind, but the one thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to live in New Zealand - sorry to all those who are content there, but it's really not for me. Obviously I'm gutted that I can't go to Poland, but these are the occasions when you've got to pull your socks up, make some decisions, and, to quote a weird statue I saw in Brussels, "show the world that a Belgian woman knows how to die"... Or something like that...

So the first portion of my emergency plan, set to be put into effect once I can catch my boss off the phone, is to ask for a one-month extension of my contract. If that goes down well, step two is to try and claw back a teeny tiny refund of my return ticket to NZ, and just try to not toss and turn at night thinking of the 1000 or so dollars down the drain... Step three is the interview I have set up for an admin position in the French Alps... Step four is (maybe) to reapply for the Poland position for next year's funding round - they've already said they would still like to have me.

Things could (and, hey, knowing my luck, probably will) go wrong at any stage of this well-thought-out plan, but let's all cross our fingers and if the worst comes to the worst I'll just go back to the drawing board and figure something else out.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Brussels sprout

Ceci n'est pas une pipe?!?

My beloved Matisse - didn't photograph well

So that's what I look like as a work of art...

"Och no laddie the wee wolfie has seized ye be the throat!"

"Beat the runaway Pokemon!"

"Just 'cause I is at the Last Supper don't mean I can't pick my teef wif a knife eh"

"I don't want to alarm anyone, but the cow is definitely eyeing up the teeny tiny baby for a snack"

The crazy world of Bosch - well worth a close-up examination

Pity this came out so blurry, because Jesus is definitely going for the armpit fart in this one

Rockingly good medieval art

So French it could only be Belgian

"I don't know... quite what's happened, but I somehow don't feel myself today"

"Right, if I see that young ragamuffin again I'll give him a damn good sawing, wot wot old bean!"

Cathdral interior

Cathedral in Brussels

What's more disturbing, the name or the photo? Mmmm, appetizing

The Mannekin Pis, apparently in Scout mode or something

Grand Place

Grand Place

Brussels Grand Place

"Come sit on my knee, sonny"

My trip to Brussels on Thursday did not start out promisingly - stuck in a queue with the slowest ticket-issuer ever, I ended up doing a mad dash through the underpass to my platform, only to wind up fruitlessly pushing the 'open doors' button as the train pulled away... Luckily enough, there was another train in 20 minutes, and though I missed my connection in Lille, I was able to hop onto the Eurostar to Brussels instead of the TGV, thus arriving in Brussels a mere 45 minutes later than planned, at midday. It takes only a crazy 35 minutes to travel between Lille and Brussels, madness! Once on the train, it occurred to me that the hostel I was staying at would probably ask to see my passport - problem: I had forgotten to bring it. Mere moments later, it occurred to me that the authorities might also ask to see my passport... Oops! Luckily enough, no-one cares about these things in France/Belgium, although after my ticket was checked on the return journey to Lille, the people opposite me were asked for their passports - I can only assume it's because mine were issued in France and perhaps theirs were from another country.

The other thing to go wrong was that the planned meet-up with Kathryn, ex-Chateau employee, didn't materialise because although we had vaguely discussed catching up, we hadn't made any firm plans and she didn't realise that I was actually going to be in Brussels that day. As French Homer Simpson says (for some random reason), t'oh!

Apart from that though, Brussels was... fine. I got the impression that it would be a cool place to live, but it's perhaps not the world's most touristy place. This is much the same way I feel about Auckland - well, apart from the fact that I no longer want to live in Auckland, ha ha.

On Thursday, I just spent the afternoon/evening wandering about, as is my wont upon a visit to a strange city. Brussels earns points for being eminently easy to walk around, which is always good. I even learnt the route for the half-hour walk from my hostel to the town centre, check out my improving navigational skills! Pretty much the first place I wound up was in the Grand Place, the large central square of Brussels. All I can say is wow! The Brussels Grand Place is breathtakingly beautiful, and I know my photos won't show it properly because you need to see the buildings as an ensemble, not in fragmented photos. You can, however, check it out on YouTube, stupid video-taking tourists have their uses after all.

After that, it was time to go on a mission to eat Belgian frites with mayonnaise - determined not to eat in the main square, it took some 20 minutes of walking to find a place, but I was rewarded by a big pack of chips for the exceedingly modest outlay of 2 €. In fact, Belgium seems pretty cheap all round compared with France, where you could easily pay 4.50 € for a pack of frites.

After more not-very-interesting wanderings, it was back to the hostel for a night in Brussels' noisiest establishment, grrr. Still managed to be up bright and early the next day to hit the Fine Arts Museum, which was filled with all manner of cool paintings, with a special emphasis of course on Flemish painters, who have had some impressive achievements over the years. Highlights were a crazy surrealist nightmarish Bosch, lots of beautiful Renaissance works which I remember from 7th form Art History, a room full of Brueghels and a Magritte painting which I absolutely fell in love with. I'm familiar enough with Magritte that I recognised who the paintings were by when I walked into the room, but he's never really blown me away before. But this painting was so amazing that I actually had left the museum, purchased a print of it in the gift shop, then I had to go all the way back in to look at it again.

You can see it here
although it really does it no justice at all, because in person it's an amazing painting.

Also at the museum, I saw the apogee of laziness - a lift with seats in it. And someone was actually making use of them! And later I saw a guy walking around smoking a pipe - photographic evidence to follow, because if you do these things you fully deserve to be secretly photographed and publicly mocked.

Nothing else of note happened in my Brussels stay. Only other thing to report at present is that when I checked the sitemeter to see who's been reading the blog (obsessed) I was interested to find that one of our American friends found his or her way to the blog by running a google search for (in quote marks) "squirrely treats" - the mind boggles that a) someone would find it necessary to track down squirrely treats and b) they actually got a hit (or, in fact, three). Strange people...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nothing to say here

Right, it's been over a week so I thought I should blog again in case you think I've died or something. By the way, first order of business is a shout out to the mysterious person in Norway who keeps checking out the blog. Hi! Is that you Sonja? Are you back in Norway? Reveal thyself! If it is Sonja, I'm still waiting for your thoughts on my thesis ha ha!

Anyway, in the past week I have had and farewelled my last school group, WOOHOO! It's fun and all going out on tours, but after a while, trust me, you get sick of it. I mean, yeah, getting paid to be a tourist sounds like a dream job, but it's tiring, there's lots of kids, it's stressful, you have to pretend to be all happy and chatty all the time, you wind up going to the same boring places again and again... Not moaning, but I'm not exactly sorry to be done with it. There really wasn't anything new with my last group, except for a bunch of extremely clingy kids who declared that we were now 'best friends' and asked for my phone number so I could come stay with them in the UK...

On Saturday I went out to Teoria, a club somewhere in the middle of nowhere off the Boulogne road, which was surprisingly big and packed considering its unsalubrious location. It was billed to me as 'the only club you'll go to where the bouncers have rottweilers' and it didn't disappoint on that front. It was just me and a bunch of French people, which was fun. Good night, haven't been out for ages, esp. not clubbing, so that was all good. Sunday was my day off thankfully, since we didn't get back to the chateau until nearly 5 am - I fell asleep in the car, oops, and proceeded to sleep most of the next day, except for the bit where I watched Sunday's brilliant F1 race.

A group of trainee language teachers have just arrived, so for the next week it's just serving them their standard 5 meals a day and doing cleaning, sigh. However, I'm off to Brussels overnight on Thursday, can't wait!

Sorry, told you there was nowt interesting going on...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Vive la révolution

Evidently someone is of the opinion that this pleasant-looking woman is in fact a 'salope' - bitch/whore

Notre Dame, no hunchback, don't even try to be funny

The Louvre, pyramid stylies. I don't want to hear anything about the Da Vinci Code, unless it is a ref to the eminently cool song "Da Vinci Claude"

"Shut up, you're an anti-semite!" Yes, that's right - I'm talking to YOU! Protest in the Tuileries

"Teehee!" Statue in the Tuileries

"Naked in public again! It's just a bad dream, it's just a bad dream, it's just..." Statue in the Tuileries

The fountain in the Place de la Concorde - choked with bandstands and stuff for Bastille Day when I was there

Tain't that romantic...

A Neptune turning away from the Tour

The Alexander III bridge, with what I think is Les Invalides in the background (?)

Statue on the Alexander III bridge with the Eiffel Tower lurking away in the background, as is its wont

NZ makes an appearance at the Bastille Day fête

The gates into Sarko's new home

Supposedly the only MacDo in the world where the arches ain't golden - on the Champs-Elysees

The Arc de Triomphe with a very French-looking automobile

Surely there aren't too many times in one's life when a day off, Bastille Day, and a location 2 hours away from Paris by train all align in a stroke of cosmic good fortune, so it would have been silly for me not to have bravely struck out from the dot on the map that is Ebblinghem for the big city yesterday. I made like a fun-seeking missile, determined merely to fetch up in Paris and let my instincts guide me to the party. Apparently my instincts were off, or at least my timing was, because although there was in fact evidence of the parade down the Champs-Elysées, I was too late to catch it, and I had to hop the last train back to Hazebrouck at too early an hour for the Eiffel Tower-centred fireworks (stupid midsummer national holiday).

But even if Paris was abandoned to the hordes of tourists, I was still up for a good time - yea, the best sort of good time, the sort of good time that involves endless walking about in the blazing sun. It was supposed to hit about 30 degrees in Paris yesterday, and I can well believe that it did. On the train, the weather seemed to improve steadily as we neared Paris, and by the time I arrived at midday it was HOT HOT HOT. Despite applying sunblock, I even burned a little bit on my back, which is not something I do readily, so you know it was verily the opposite of frosty coldness.

As you probably know, and has been mentioned in the blog before, I am a fiend for hydration, and I calculated that yesterday I bought no fewer than 7 icy beverages, none of them alcoholic. With the bottle I took clutched in my fevered hand on my train journey, that's some 4 litres of water, and it would have been more too if I had had handy refreshment tables like in a marathon (if only). This sort of refreshment did not come cheap, however - after a long search for a decent-looking cafe off the main tourist streets, I just about fainted when I saw my lemonade was costing me 7 €. You'd better believe I didn't tip!

Fascinating as this is, I'm sure you're all champing at the metaphorical bit to know how I actually spent my day in Paris when I wasn't quaffing pricey drinks. As I said - walking. I started out with a metro ride to the Arc de Triomphe roundabout (where I saw some evidently suicidal tourists braving the overland route - dashing across multiple lanes of traffic on a roundabout with no fewer than 12 exits - insane!) and then walked the length of the Champs-Elysées towards the Place de la Concorde, veering off to check out the Pont Alexandre III, on to the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, then across Pont Neuf to the Ile de la Cité, home of Notre Dame and then up to the Centre Pom-pom-pidou! I had planned to take advantage of the free entry to the Pompidou in honour of Bastille Day, but alas I was not the only one with this bright idea, and queuing with 50 other people in a glass tunnel to get in quickly becomes insufferable in 30 degree weather, let me tell you. So I bailed and from there I wandered randomly on the left bank before dinner and calling it a day. Dinner was at a sidewalk cafe, where I uncomfortably dined alone, facing the traffic, serenaded by French people honking their horns - how very Parisian!

A note on the Tuileries - the last time I was in Paris I evidently approached the Louvre from an autre direction, because I'd never been before, but I'd always heard they were nice, and given the name 'garden' and their appearance on maps as a green oasis, I was expecting a pleasant place to escape from the heat for a bit. Could not have been more wrong! Don't be fooled, there is nothing remotely garden-like about the Tuileries - the 'oasis' is a cruel mirage, as they are in fact a desert of white sand-gravel stuff, blinding to the eyes, wearing to the feet, crushing to the soul. There were some nice water features though - I restrained myself from diving on in and restricted myself to a paddle, terminated when I noticed the odd dead-tadpoley-things in the water. Gross!

However, Paris is really a beautiful city, especially on a gorgeous sunny day like yesterday. The last time I was there I was in a bit of a funk, so I really didn't appreciate the experience, but this has restored my faith in Paris, so luckily enough I have another visit planned for early next month. It's a bit of a shame spontaneous outbreaks of patriotism weren't erupting all over the capital, but what are you going to do eh.

And, as my mum would say, my 'adventures' did not come to an end with my return to sleepy Hazebrouck. As my chauffeur Mike had to close the bar at 11, when my train was due in, I had to wait outside the station for about 20 minutes. About 10 minutes in I spotted someone approaching from the other side of the road, a pint of beer in one hand and a coffee cup in the other. Turned out the owner of the pub across the way had seen me and decided to take pity on me with a hot chocolate - how sweet! The moment was spoiled slightly when a woman subsequently came out and yelled at me for having the effrontery to transport my hot choc across state lines, but then the guy came back out and said effectively not to worry about what she thought. This is where he realised I wasn't French and launched into an excited conversation with me, which for the most part consisted of him saying how well I spoke French and me failing to understand most of the rest of what he had to say. But you couldn't blame me really, as the below translation of our conversation (English indicated by capitals) will reveal:

Hot Choc Man: [incomprehensible French (I.F)] LINUX, you know it? [I.F] I FUCK WINDOWS, do you understand? Do you know Linux? Oh, how to explain, I don't know in English... OPEN ACCESS [I.F.] MICROSOFT COMMERCIAL, you don't understand do you?

Me: I'm not very good with computers...


Me: Shakespeare?

HCM: You speak French better than I speak English! You speak so well!

Me: Not really, I live here so I should speak better.

HCM: You live here! It's not possible!! If you lived here I would know you already!

The rest of the conversation was mostly comprehensible, but I would love to know where the 'to be or not to be' came in. Are there any closest Linux fans who can enlighten me? At any rate, Mike turned up in the middle of our conversation so it was goodbye to my new friend - who, by the way, was 'tu'-ing me (the familiar form of 'you', used for friends etc) all over the place. Fresh!

That was a lot of words to explain that I didn't do a lot of interesting stuff in my day in Paris. Hope y'all had a good Bastille Day too! (One last thing - they don't, as far as I can tell, actually say 'Bastille Day' [Jour du Bastille] or anything here - seems to go by 'Fête Nationale' [National Holiday] or simply 'le quatorze de juillet' [the fourteenth of July].) Okay, congrats if you made it to the end!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Poissons et moutons

The longer I'm at the Chateau, the more I have to go to places I've been before (obviously enough). But along with a few old favourites, I've been to a couple of new places with my group over the last two days. Neither of them were stunningly exciting, but there you go.

Yesterday, along with a bakery and Saint Omer, we went to a cheese farm. Not the dairy farm I've visited before, but a sheep farm. Highlights included patting a baby lamb (so soft!) lowlights included watching a video of a sheep giving birth bleh. Just when you thought it was over, it popped out another one, although by 'popped out' I mean it was yanked out by a burly gentleman. We got to taste the cheese and it was quite nice, although the whole place stank once again.

Today we spent the morning at Boulogne market/shops (I got an English book hurrah!) and then went to Nausicaa for the afternoon, supposedly the biggest sea-life centre in Europe or something like that. It was okay, the fish were pretty cool, but it did go on a bit, all with a super earnest conservational message about how we CAN save the oceans before they bring death and destruction to us all. I also got to pat a couple of fish - felt sorry for them in the patting tank, I hope they get rotated out of the front line every now and again. One was sandpapery and one was slimy. And I learned that tuna are mahoose! I always pictured little things skipping about, not great beastie man-eaters! Then I tried to buy a sprite at the cafe and didn't have enough money on me, which was a bit embarrassing, but come on - 2€ that's extortionate! Everywhere else it's a euro for a can of drink!

The group is pretty cool, even if one of the kids asked if New Zealand was "really a separate country, or is it just part of Australia?" and their teacher told them NZ was Australia's poo - oi! Last night the party leader (who's French) was telling the kids how good they'd been all day - "you were fabulous in the bakery, you were really good at the cheese farm, and last night you were brilliant in bed" ha ha! Luckily everyone else cracked up as well cause I couldn't hold it in!

Tomorrow I get to go to a sweet factory, cool! Told you I will learn the manufacturing process of every conceivable product of the north.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Les amis de la famille

Looking down the canal/river in Ghent

Me and Sue standing by the river

The other side of the river

The Sint-whatever-it-is Cathedral in Ghent

Inside Lille Cathedral

A pretty stained glass window in Lille Cathedral

Me and Sue outside the Palais de Beaux Arts in Lille

This weekend I was visited by Sue and Norm, family friends and my godmother in Sue's case. Twas lovely to see some familiar faces and to repay a teensy weensy bit of the hospitality they offered me for about two months a couple of years back - cheers guys!

They arrived about 11.30 on Friday morning - I was still working, so it was off to sample the delights of Hazebrouck for them and then back to the Chateau for the standard joys of select-a-sandwich, as always. I managed to knock off and shower by 2.30, so we headed into Lille for the afternoon. It turned out to be a lovely sunny day - most unusually for this bit of France - so we had a good time mooching about the city centre, checking out the cathedral (which I hadn't been to before and which is quite nice) and grabbing a couple of drinks in Place de General de Gaulle, the very picturesque central square.

Saturday was my day off, and we decided to have an early(ish) start and strike out for Ghent. This was a bit of a spur of the moment decision - somewhere none of us had been and somewhere I otherwise would have been unlikely to go, so a good call I think. It's about a 2 hour drive away, which we broke up by having breakfast slash morning tea in Ypres and having a wee look at the Menin Gate. Ghent itself was pretty cool - larger than places like Ypres and Bruges (not that I've been to Bruges, but you know) so it's perhaps not as relentlessly touristy, but it still has tons of pretty old houses in the centre, and it's crisscrossed with rivers and canals, which I think always make a city. The absolute highlight was the St. Baafskathedral (sp?), a huge and imposing buildings which houses numerous fine paintings and objets d'art, including Jan (and Hubert?) van Eyck's 'The Adoration of the Lamb', painted in 1438 (if I remember correctly). The 3€ admission in to see the painting (the rest of the cathedral was free) included a very comprehensive audio guide, so one spent about 20-30 minutes standing in a wee little room with 20 other people staring at this altarpiece, but very interesting and a great painting. There was also a choir and organist going while we were there, which is always nice.

Apart from the cathedral, the afternoon was spent wandering about and having more drinksies, plus lunch at a cafe with the world's slowest service. Sue was a bit confused that her beef sandwich seemed to consist of strange-tasting chopped tomatoes - Norm and I waited until after she'd finished to inform her that it was topped with raw beef. D'oh!

Weather was sunny and nice again, although so windy that I kept on putting on and taking off my jumper every five minutes depending on the gusts.

The day was capped off by dinner at an indifferent restaurant in St Omer. Poor Sue suffered again with a sausage that was made up of chopped variety meats slung into its casing - the whole thing unravelled out when cut in to, and was more than she could stomach. Good chips though and my chicken and chocolate mousse were good. I took the precaution of questioning the exact make-up of the profiteroles for her to prevent any further culinary mishaps over dessert.

They went back to Angleterre this morning, after a brief but action-packed stay at the chateau, and back to work for me all too soon, although we were done by 12.30 and I lay about in the sunshine and then watched the Grand Prix, so not too bad of a weekend I must admit.