Saturday, December 29, 2007

Merry belated Xmas

Getting on the net for more than about 5 mins has been tricky, but now I've figured out how to tap into the hotel's wireless it's a lot easier.

Not too much to report. I've been super sick with the flu ever since I arrived in England.

Leaving Chamonix was a bit sad, but at least I had a super sendoff with the office Christmas party - and no need to restrain oneself when you're just about to flee the country! Not that my non-imminent departure stopped me on previous staff outings in Chamonix ha ha. Anyway, a very full-on night had by all, which made packing and cleaning the next day a bit of a challenge, but hey, work was over forever, so it wasn't too bad.

The most exciting event so far, then, was our outing to watch Liverpool thrash Portsmouth, oh yeah! We didn't have any tickets, so had to take our luck with turning up at the stadium on the day. Me and Mum were fortunate enough to score some corporate hospitality tickets - so we got to swan around in the (semi)private bar before/after/during the match and our seats were in the third row back, cool! Only prob was that the teams spent 90% of the game in the opposite half to where we were sitting - d'oh! At least they came down our half to score two goals... The atmos was pretty cool, but I must say - unlike some people I was sitting with - I didn't feel the need to cry when everyone sang "Walk On".

Apart from that, there has been an outing to Wordsworth's cottage in the Lake District, which was pretty interesting even if I'm not particularly into Wordsworth, various shopping trips and outings to the myriad small towns that dot the landscape up here. Christmas lunch was at the hotel where we're staying and was quite good even though with this flu I haven't really felt like eating much - long may it last! Well, actually, coughing so much I throw up isn't really worth it as a diet plan.

On Monday it's off to Leeds for New Years with Alice, then on to Newcastle to meet up with Anna and Esther a couple of days later - all Chateau alumni, so very excited we get to catch up. The other main news is that we booked my ticket home today. Hideously expensive, so let's hope all goes well with the MLIS eh!

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and all the best for the new year xx

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last day

This is my last day of work and thus my last chance to blog before setting off to Angleterre on Thursday. I am very sad to be leaving France, I will miss it loads, now my grand ambition in life is finding a way to come back and live here again - hopefully working in a library... Odds, I don't know...

I can't quite believe I'll be leaving France for a long time, and, before I know it, leaving Europe too. I do mean to make the most of my last 6 weeks in Europe - I suppose 6 weeks is a long time when you think about it, plenty of people come over for a once-in-a-very-long-time 6 week trip to Europe and are pretty pleased with it, but in the context of the last almost year-and-a-half it doesn't seem long at all and I know it will fly by.

There are definitely loads of things and people I'll be looking forward to in NZ, but can't help feeling that that'll last for a couple of weeks and then I'll wish I were leaving again. But oh well, gotta take the attitude that it'll be okay and it's only a year or two in any case.

The weather here has turned certifiably freezing - the longest I've spent outside in the past few days has been about 15 mins' walk there and back to my mates' place the other day, which was so cold that it actually hurt my chest to breathe and all the bones in my face were aching. The thermometers around town haven't gone below -8 that I've seen, but every time I look up the temperature online it says between -11 and -15 (daytime!) so don't know what to believe. Cold, in any case.

Tonight is the office Christmas do - good timing in that I get to attend, eat and drink on the company budget and then have tomorrow as my day off - official last day of employment. Not that that will be a lot of fun, as I'll have to get up with a hangover and start packing and cleaning. Man, do I hate packing!!! I'll have to continue to live out of a suitcase for the next 6 weeks, and then I'll only be back in Aucks for a month or less before it'll be time to pack again and move to Wellington! Groan!!! Saying goodbye to suitcases for a year when in Wellington will be absolute bliss!!!

Catch you all again from the other side of the Manche. xx

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grey Geneva

Cathedral in Geneva

Carvings inside the church

This must be a fun place to live

Bridge across Lake Leman/Geneva

Scarily enough, I just turned my burning eyes away from the computer screen to dig out a form (blue in colour) for a colleague - "oh that's strange" said I "it's blank". Upon further examination, the form turned out to be blank by no stretch of the imagination, but in fact relatively covered with typing. So I can add screwed up eyes to my dodgy fingers that start paining me after several minutes of typing and have reduced me to holding down the shift key with the knuckle of my little finger - I've gotten quite good at this novel typing method, FYI... (So what do I do, turn to the computer to complain...)

Anyway, point being not to whine about work-related ailments, but to talk about my day off yesterday, when, as you clever cats may have guessed, I took a wee roadtrip (well, traintrip, the 'iron road' as we hipsters call it) to Geneva, and another new country, although disappointingly, no passport stamp - no passport check, in fact, so much for it not being part of the EU. The day began super early, I was awake by 4.30 - coincidentally - I didn't actually have to rise until 6.30, which is still pretty early for me.

Up and at em, then, on a freezing cold morning to catch the amusingly-named 'Mont Blanc Express' - a train so wee that when I first saw it chugging on its merry way through Chamonix, I mistook it for a tram. It's also virtually silent (at least from the outside) and ever so slow - less TGV than TPV. It also stopped at every tiny little 'station' possible - although station is a gross overstatement, since at least half of these just featured a sign with 'gare' written on it stuck into the ground next to the tracks. The old-stylez Swanson station (i.e. hut on side of road) would put these to shame - and remember, people are attending their trains at these lonely outposts in sub-zero snowy conditions. It also ran late, causing me to panic that I would miss my connection (a real train) but they must have held it or something, because despite turning up 25 mins late (15 mins after the connecting train was due to leave) I made it with minutes to spare.

At 10 am, when the train was due into Geneva, we pulled in to a station. My first thought was (since we were running late), "well, this can't be Geneva, far too shabby", so I was shocked to see that, in fact, yes it was Geneva. All my preconceptions about the Swiss nicely went out the window - the place wasn't a sparkling-clean hive of industry, but rather featured graffiti, chewing-gum on the floor, a distinct lack of christmassy-ness and, inexplicably, gangs of youth in fancy dress absolutely everywhere. Okay, none of these things are particularly out-of-the-ordinary for a city (bar the costumed youth, for which I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation), but they just ran counter to my most dearly-held preconceptions of what Switzerland would be like.

Things, then, began a little badly, and continued badly when I exited the station to find myself approximately in the middle of nowhere - well, Genevan suburbia at any rate - with absolutely no idea where to head to get to civilization. Some will say that's my fault for coming with absolutely no research and no idea of the city's layout, but there you go. After a brief abortive wander, I returned to the station, got told off for coming through the wrong door (by his "go round the other way" gesturing, I actually thought for a bit that he was going to make me go out and come back in again before deigning to talk to me, but thankfully not) and managed to acquire a map of Geneva - mad skills, as my (soon to be erstwhile) boss would say.

Equipped with this, I set out for the lake, with a brief but oh-so-productive stop-off at a supermarket for cheap Swiss chocolate. Mmmmm. Only fools go to proper chocolate shops in these places, just hit up the supey every time! On finally working out which way I was facing and thus where the lake was, I found my way down to the tune of more disappointment. At least from the direction I approached, they seem to have set out to make the lakefront as ugly and unprepossessing as humanly possible - a drab carpark leading to a row of nasty tin sheds in front of a quay absolutely choked with yachts and nowhere to walk where you can actually see the water. Not that the lake's even that pretty when you can see it, at least not on a grey, drab day. Walking along the lakefront, things improved somewhat, with a garden and the opportunity of walking directly next to the lake. Although the allegedly renowned 'floral clock' in the garden (a tribute to Swiss watchmaking!) was unremittedly ugly - yes, okay, it's winter in (almost) the Alps, but hey, no need to plant brown flowers even then.

Shaking off the excitement of seeing the sights (also viewed: the jet d'eau, hugely powerful fountain and symbol of Geneva, not working that day due to high winds - and on that note may I add that it was freezing, and this is coming from someone currently living 1000 m up a mountain, and the cathedral, which was huge but fairly drab and featureless as well, as you might expect from the home of Calvinism - it did, however, have a few stained glass windows - really going to town there) I made my way to the SHOPS!

Yes, Geneva's saving grace is that it boasts shops that aren't ridiculously priced or focussed exclusively on skiwear. And it has a FNAC - everyone's fav book/CD/DVD/electronic goods shop, with an extensive selection of English books that aren't about climbing mountains, hurrah! This excitement caused me to spend a bit much, but really not very much and everything was a bit of a bargain in Swiss francs, so why not? Talking of Swiss francs, they are the most garish currency (with the possible exception of the Aussie dollar) that you'd ever care to see. I think that, as they were hampered by having to translate everything into four languages (German, French, Italian and ?? mystery), they thought they might as well go over the top with everything else on the note as well, and just crammed whatever the hell they felt like on there.

Very tired by the time I wended my way home again, after a day that convinced me that Geneva's not up to much, but which was probably a more edifying way to spend my day off than lying in bed, which was Plan B, so worth the trip (especially since I got new clothes and a book, yes!)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

As everybody who reads the blog already knows, I think, I'm outta here on the 20th December, owing to the general awful suckiness and stressfulness of this job and my brand-new plans to go back to uni for another Masters - this time of Library and Information Studies, in Wellington.

Can't say, to be honest, I'm really looking forward to living back in NZ, but it's far far far cheaper than studying over here, so looking at it as one year (plus, realistically, a bit of working to save money afterwards) as an investment in the old future, and then back Europeward. But plan to have some fun over the next 6 weeks or so before I finally get on that plane, stay tuned!

In fine blog tradition, however, I will now present my list of things I will and won't miss about France, and Chamonix in particular. I suspect a lot of it will revolve around food.

Will miss... snow, when it's around!

Won't miss... getting into the office/home and having to divest myself of hat, gloves, scarf, coat, jumper and boots (and change into another pair of boots in the case of work). And then follow the reverse process when going out.

Will miss... the beautiful mountain scenery

Won't miss... the "Good Moooorning Chamonix" ritual of blowing several litres of blood out of my nose upon rising - apparently a side-effect of altitude

Will miss... "Americains" - a baguette filled with hamburger/kebab meat/chicken etc and topped off with hot chips - they vary from having the chips tucked inside to ones where basically there's a whole bag of chips dumped half in/half on top of the baguette. Either way, they're damned good, although what's so "American" about them, I don't know. Will miss frites and mayo in general, actually.

Won't miss... never being entirely sure that any given menu item isn't made up of lamb's brain with a side of tripe

Will miss... 101 (or more) varieties of delish cheese, readily available - reblochon, chèvre and port salut being particular favs

Won't miss... lack of cheddar - yes, there's lots of cheese, but they really haven't nailed the 'perfect cheese to sprinkle on your hot meal' market. All the ready-grated cheese in France has this odd, sweet flavour

Will miss... chatting French when pissed and feeling like I'm fluent

Won't miss... talking French on the phone at work, to a general response of "can't you speak French?" "can I talk to someone who can?", meanwhile I just want to sink into the ground

Will miss... going out clubbing in big chunky snow boots lol - high heels are dead!

Won't miss... never getting to wear a skirt

Will miss... cheap but good bottles of rosé

Won't miss... the gasp-worthy cost of a glass of vodka and sprite in a bar

Will miss... French music - not that I've actually heard much since leaving the chateau land of constant MTV

Won't miss... not having a TV!

Will miss... French gossip mags - how will I live without knowing what the star academyciennes got up to this week?

Won't miss... living in a town where the few English books available are exclusively on the subject of mountaineering

Will miss... baked goods, especially the ease and convenience of fresh bread daily, if so desired

Won't miss... getting to about 12.30 and thinking "I'll just pick up a baguette for lunch" only to remember that all the bakeries (and, indeed, most everything else as well) will be closed until about 2 pm. And everything being closed on Sundays - although here isn't actually as bad on that score as in the north, where the nearest shop that was open would've been in Belgium

Will miss... talking of which, the ubiquitousness of Belgians for me to shake my fist at and go "stupid Belgians, get out of my country!" - even in Cham, there are regular occasions for such shenanigans. *Note - although I actually DO do this, it's just a joke - I really have nothing against our Flemish/Walloon friends. Heh, Walloon.*

Will miss... obsessing over why the guy at the friterie 'tu'ed me - friendliness or rudeness? Should I be offended or pleased?

Will miss... (do miss!) shopping in French clothes shops

Won't miss... that Chamonix is the exclusive preserve either of ski-wear shops or designer brands and thus nowt for me

Will miss... being able to stumble home on foot from anywhere in Cham

Won't miss... not having a car - I'm not sure if I'll actually own one back home, but hoping someone'll let me drive one, it's been a while!

I'm sure there's many more. Hard to believe I'm leaving, really, France me manquera! Maybe one day I can come back and work in the English dept of a French university library, that'd be the dream!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Birthday shenanigans

Well, actually, the week's fun started on Monday night with a dinner at the restaurant below my apartment, conveniently enough, not in celebration of my birthday but of Jim's imminent departure (although celebration isn't quite the word, as we were all very sorry to see him go). For a change, we opted for a civilized dinner rather than a piss-up, and very nice it was too. I struck boldly out for French civilization and tried the snails. Although in my vocabulary 'tried' is really one or two, not a giant plate of 12, but oh well. The first challenge with the snails was that they arrived in their shells. Oh dear, unforeseen obstacle. I was equipped with a teensy little fork and some pincery things. The table was polled, and we decided that one cracked the shell open and then speared the snail meat. Right, to work... Not a success. The table was polled again, and this time the consensus was that perhaps one gripped the snail with the pincers and dug the meat out with the little fork. This time, it worked, thankfully without the predicted "Pretty Woman" moment where the snail flies across the room. However, if you think digging a snail's innards out is an easy task, you would still be mistaken. As for the taste? Well, I didn't think it was awful. Some of the crew who also had a try were appalled, but I found them edible, although was definitely flagging at the end of the plate. Luckily I also had a tres delish chevre chaud salad miam miam!

Tuesday night was birthday drinks night, in honour of my birthday on Wednesday falling on my day off (post-drinkies staying in bed). It ended up not being a huge night, but it was a pleasant evening nonetheless. Home probably about 1.30 for a lovely sleep until much the same time the next day. After that, I had lunch with a couple of friends and then went to the movies at night, so all very nice.

Can't say I particularly feel 25ish, will I ever? Feeling positive about having made some long-term career details however - of which more to follow - so maybe I am on the way to being a real, live grown-up. Ha.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cham photos

The Christmas lights have been turned on!

Looking at the mountain tops emerging from low-lying cloud at Alpe D'Huez

The misty mountain hop at Alpe d'Huez

Looking back down the steep, snowy slope we drove up without chains, before having to abandon the attempt halfway up

If you look hard, there's me snow angel!

There's no fun like snow fun!

A walk in the snowy woods

Cool deco cafe - with icicles!

Looking at the main Square - I live here

Looking down the river in the middle of Chamonix

Lots of snow!

The snow settles

The snow starts to fall for the first time (looking out of my window)

Sarah evidently in some distress

Getting a little carried away on the Garage podium - we are always the only people on the podiums!

Sarah and Jim at the Garage - what's being pointed at, I don't know...

Me and a moosy friend at Chambre Neuf - the glove was there because Josh made a rule that people could only drink with their glove hand or face penalties

Fi and Andrew, the happy couple ha

The (as far as I could see) main shopping drag in Turin

Me and Andrew in Turin

A palace in Turin

In Turin

Looking out my window at the main square

My living room

My kitchen - now with fridge!

A rocky outcrop at the top of the Aiguille de Midi

I think that's Mt Blanc on the rght, although the peak on the left looks higher so not sure...

Looking down on the Geant glacier from above

At the top of Aiguille de Midi

At the top of the Aiguille de Midi

Looking out across the mountain tops at the very top of the Aiguille de Midi

Me with the glacier in the background. Man, that coat really does nothing for me!

Me with Cham laid out in the background

Looking down on Cham from the Aiguille de Midi

Fi prepares to take off

A paraponter in front of the Geant glacier

Looking down on Chamonix

Fi and the traffic cone thief

Me, Fi and Jim out clubbing

Jim busting a particularly cool move at the Garage

My oddly floating head and Jimbo Jones

Andrew - also a piggyback victim (see below) and Lou

Josh and Lou

Sunset over the mountains

Josh and Jim (bearing the scars of a drunken piggyback 'incident')

Sunset over Mt Blanc