Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas and everything after

Sigh, the longer you leave blog posts, the more boring they are for all involved... So here goes a quick summary of what I've been up to in the last week or so.

Today we basically just drove around. We went up to the north into Cumbria and saw a couple of bits of Hadrian's Wall and the ruins of some Roman forts and stuff, then across into Northumberland for more of the same. It was freeeeezing cold and icy and horrible. We visited an ancient stone circle somewhere near Keswick, which was pretty amazing. It's set in this flat piece of land surrounded 360 degrees by mountains. Today, with snow covering everything as far as the eye could see, it was really impressive. You can see why the druids or whoever it was would want to hang out there. As scenic as you'd find anywhere in the world. Then we just drove back down through the Lake District and home.

Yesterday we went into Manchester... Chaos. It was Monday after Boxing Day so the sales were still going strong and there were just millions of people everywhere. It was quite stressful and nasty. You could barely even look at anything on the racks, there were so many people, let alone try stuff on or get to a till. After lunch we tried to go to the Trafford Centre, but all the carparks were full. Wikipedia informs me there are more than 10,000 parking spaces, so this is quite the feat. It took us about half an hour to get into the place, around a roundabout and back out again. Looks quite impressive on Wikipedia, but probably would have had a nervous breakdown if we'd actually managed to get inside the place. Slow-moving crowds, ugh.

On Boxing Day we went into Liverpool, and after a bit of a look around the city centre we were lucky enough to get tickets to the match. We had pretty good seats in row L, towards one of the goal ends. Best of all, Liverpool won 2-nil. Unfortunately the goals were up the other end and I didn't see them very well, but it was an okay match.

On Christmas Day I was hungover as anything. I don't think I had that much to drink on Christmas Eve, but there was a shot of sambucca at one point, maybe that did it. Christmas was uneventful. Santa bought me a new digital camera, much appreciated, and assorted other little presents.

On Christmas Eve we did some shopping in Lancaster. I bought myself a new netbook for Christmas. More an insurance policy than anything, as my laptop has already completely crashed once and now goes for max about three hours at a time before it overheats and shuts down. Having it crashed for a few days last time was a complete nightmare. More addicted than ever living in France, far away from everyone and most forms of entertainment. We went to dinner on Christmas Eve, to a nice pub with good food. This little 8 year old kid schooled me in the arts of pool, which enabled me to beat my brother, yuss! Then I played the kid, and he won, but only by a couple of balls, so maybe he taught me something. It was a fun night anyway, chatted to various locals, although perhaps not worth the hangover.

The day before Christmas Eve was spent shopping in Morecambe, nothing terribly exciting. I have managed to purchase a jumper and an angora jacket though, which have already come in handy considering it's frigid around these parts. It hasn't snowed for several days, but the snow's hung around, especially out of the towns. Everywhere is very slippery, I have no suitable shoes and not much in the way of warm clothing. Of course this just means there is more shopping to be done!

I think that brings us up to date with everything... Tomorrow we're meant to be going to Blackpool, shopping etc. I was supposed to be going to the midlands for New Years, but that didn't work out so looks like I'll be stuck up here with the rents for a super-exciting NYE. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

En Angleterre

Looks like it's definitely set to be a white Christmas up here in the north of England... Just arrived after about a 13 hour door-to-door trip from Nice to Liverpool. Granted, I arrived at the airport stupidly early as usual, but the real problems began when the flight was delayed. Of course, they didn't announce it until the last minute when we were all stuck beyond security with nothing to do. First an hour's delay, then another. Then they announced boarding and then called it off, leaving us all to stand around hopefully for another 20 minutes or so. Some amusement was provided by the dude who had bought a duty-free bottle of red and consumed it in its entirety in the departure lounge.

Finally, we were off. No problems (apart from the screaming brat sat next to me) until we got to Liverpool safe and sound. Where we sat, and sat, and sat waiting to get off the plane. For 1 3/4 hours. Apparently it was too icy for us to get off safely. Wtf? Did the 2 hour delay not give them enough notice that we were coming? Seriously, why does England go to pieces completely whenever there's a cold snap? Granted, this is the snowiest I've ever seen it, but it's not as if I've spent my whole life here. Moscow copes every winter (jackass schemes about cloud-seeding notwithstanding) - what's England's problem?

Oh and then I just found that they destroyed my luggage's locking mechanism. It wasn't enough for them just to cut off the padlock. Or just to cut off one of the pull tabs for the zip. No, they chucked the padlock away, took the entire zipper off one side, and took the pull tab off the other side. So now it doesn't lock, I have no padlock, and it's difficult to even close. Thanks a fecking lot you dicks. Everywhere else they at least do you the courtesy of telling you to remove padlocks if necessary. It came all the way from Auckland to Brisbane, Brisbane to Dubai, Dubai to Milan padlocked - but Nice to Liverpool - oh noes, let's break in! Plus the top layer of all my stuff is wet. And a promising young bar of chocolate, only days away from consumption, was ruined. Tragedy.

Anyway, I'm tired, and sick and grumpy as you might be able to tell. But I'm here! Reunited with the fams, looking forward to Christmas and shopping and Englishy things. Of course no-one will even read this blog since I am currently using the only familial laptop, but oh well, I enjoy me. Someone doesn't though - I notice I have one less 'follower'. Boo :(

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I can't believe it, it snowed! Here! In Nice! I'm so excited! (Can you tell?) I was hoping to get some snow in England, but didn't dream that it would snow here. The weather the past few days has seriously been testing the limits of my wardrobe by the way... I had it in my head that winter in Nice would be like winter in Auckland (i.e. daytime temps around... I don't know, 12 degrees?) but SURPRISE, it's cold! I won't complain too much, as long as it gives me snow. Which as of now, 9.40 am, is still lying on the ground, rooftops and on trees and looking all wintry and Christmassy and fabulous. Only a couple of centimetres, but still. I didn't see it actually fall because it was night and my shutters were down. I read online that the forecast was rain/snow mixed and I was just kind of like "yeah whatever" so was so surprised when I saw it that I got dressed and ran downstairs at 1.30 in the morning to play in it a bit. Then I threw snowballs off our balcony and accidentally hit the same car twice (sorry!)

Yesterday was my last day of school until the new year. Ugh, hard day as well. Well, hard two hours. The last hour was the last before the holidays and yeah, the kids were being real pains in the arses as I suppose is the custom before the holidays. Even when it's only been like 6 weeks since the last holidays! I taught them the 12 days of Christmas too, with varying degrees of success.

My parents and brother landed in the UK last night :) I leave here on Tuesday to join them for Christmas. Can't wait! The list of things I want to buy in the UK is growing by the day (hair clips! insoles! cider! chocolate!) Oh and I will finally get hold of the Eftpos card for my UK bank account, which was mailed out to New Zealand. Thus magically unlocking 500 pounds which I plan to do justice to clothes shopping! Yay!

This doesn't really fit in the post, but I have to tell someone - walked downstairs the other day early in the morning and sprung this shaven-headed, be-earringed teen practising his moonwalk in the mirror in the lobby. He had his back to me and his ipod in so he didn't hear me coming down the stairs until he saw my reflection and pretended to be tying his shoe. Too late, buddy! Ahahahahaha. Shame on your name. That is all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

All-singing, all-dancing

Since Santa prefers to communicate in blog comment form, I might as well write a new post while I'm here.

Today's post has a musical theme. Last night my colleague Ibi and I went to see a recital put on by the prépa (prep school) classes from our school, held at the regional conservatory just down the road from me. They were pretty good! Our school is, I believe, popularly regarded as the best or second-best in Nice, depending on who you ask (i.e. people from our school or from our rival school!) so for the most part we have pretty good kids, especially in class prépa. I may have explained this before, but just as a reminder, prépa students are 'the best of the best' who take an extra 2 years of classes between finishing high school and starting uni, in preparation for a national competitive exam to try and get into les grandes écoles, the French equivalents of like Oxford and Cambridge or Ivy League colleges. They come from all around to attend prépa at my school, so there's some talent there. I'm always surprised as well by how much I recognise of the music at these things. I'm by no means a classical music buff, so it really makes you realise how much these pieces have permeated popular culture, whether it be in Disney movies or in car ads or whatever, which really shows, even if you hate the stuff, that there must be something to them! Especially the 'Fantasie Brillante sur Carmen' by Borne, which had two entirely different bits that I knew. Anyway, left the concert at about 10 pm - FREEZING! Haven't been out at night for a while, it was a real shock! Google informed me that it was 5 degrees, 1 degree with wind chill. This is the same Google that told me it was -15 and snowing in Auckland last week, but on this occasion I'm inclined to believe it. It's still reasonable during the day, as long as there's sun about, but you do need to take a jumper (and a coat, and a scarf, and a hat, and gloves if you're French).

I also did a bit of singing in class yesterday, teaching the kids the 12 Days of Christmas - Kiwi version. It went quite well actually! My singing did not, however. It was a bit high and I have a little bit of a sore throat so it was cracked and awful but I soldiered on in the name of education. They had the courtesy not to laugh at me (at least not that I saw) although they did laugh (rightly so) when I was trying to count down 12-11-10-9 etc. with my fingers and kept mucking it up. What a 'tard eh?

Getting them to sing was largely prompted by the fact that last week my most difficult class, who never wants to participate at all, spontaneously burst into song when I asked if they knew the names of any carols in English. Colour me surprised! I don't think you'd ever get a group of kiwi teenagers doing that! And it was led by the Macauley Culkin-looking dude who always lounges around looking too cool for school with his perma-scarf. Well I've said it before and I'll say it again - those Frenchies really do love their singing!

That's about all from me. I'm looking forward to going to England next week - fish & chips, real cider, Galaxy chocolate, English TV, pubs, crackling fires (maybe), & of course seeing my family! Joyeux Noel à tous!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mise à jour

The computer guy who fixed my laptop put this stupid French anti-virus programme on that feels the need to SAY "la base de signature de virus a été mise à jour" to me every day... Anyway, French for update!

I had fun the rest of the night on my birthday. We had dinner here, which was yummy, much wine was drunk. Emily made me a birthday cake with 27 *trick* candles, fun times! They were actually the best trick candles I've seen, cos they actually waited like 10 seconds before relighting, so you actually thought they'd all been blown out (the first time at least, they had to eventually be pinched by braver souls than I). Then we went into down, there was dancing, yay! On Tuesday one of my students came up and said she saw me out, which is one of my recurring nightmares... Seriously, they're like 16, find your own parks to drink in or something! Anyway, she was all "I was going to say hi but you didn't see me", to which my improvident reply was "sorry, I was quite drunk". So was she though, so no harm done!

I realised earlier this week that due to various cancellations and illnesses, I only have to work 4 hours this week - but still get normal pay :D The resulting boredom, however, drove me out of the house today. It was a lovely sunny day, as per. Went down to the beach and actually went ON the beach for the first time. Feel a bit lame saying that, but at least I've done it now! Yep, it is entirely covered with stones, but they are mostly quite flat and rounded off, and I discovered that you can in fact lie down in relative comfort, just make yourself a little hollow and spend the first few minutes removing offending stones from your back and you're set. And really is super beautiful. I imagine it's a nightmare in mid-summer, but at the moment it's sparsely populated, and you can actually hear the crashing of the small waves over your ipod and not much else (bar the occasional inevitable scooter).

After I'd got bored of reading on the beach I tried to go to the modern art museum, which was equipped with an array of doors smack bang in the front of it which I just knew from looking at them weren't going to open. What is it with museums and having large, conveniently-placed entrances that don't actually work? Under the scrutiny of gangs of youths the like of which would just LOVE to hang about at the Westgate movies (eh Ranch?) I tried all the doors, wandered around to the side, decided it must be closed, saw there was someone inside, wandered around to the other side, found a door covered with a curtain which presumably didn't open, and left. So who knows how you get into the fortress of modern art?

Being still in the museum-going mood, I wandered over to another part of town and checked out the Musée Masséna, which is a museum of the history of Nice. It's set in very nice grounds, slightly back from the sea, in a beautiful 19th century palace. The entire ground floor is decorated as presumably it always has been and is really pretty. There are also no ropes or anything, so bar the odd discreet sign, you really feel like you're actually in a palace, not a museum. It used to be owned by a Masséna, who judging from all the stuff named after him in Nice, is fondly regarded in these parts. I figured out from the museum that he was born in Nice, was the son of a wine merchant, but ended up the Prince of somewhere thanks to helping Napoleon out in various wars. Not bad, eh? There is apparently still a Prince of whatever - someone should really go strip him of his title and point out that it's even more made-up, meaningless and ridiculous than the average petty European princeship.

Upstairs is the museum part, which is no longer decorated up like the villa downstairs, don't know if someone came in and stripped out all the decorations (if so why?), or if the downstairs was restored? The exhibits up here were of moderate interest. I started feeling a bit sick and decided to go home. Not sure why, although I had run out of water before getting to the museum, which is somewhat of a crisis for me, of course.

Anyway, this resulted in me fainting on the bus. Or perhaps 'collapsing' would be a better word, since I don't think I passed out. The bus was hot and crowded and I had to stand. I wasn't feeling too awful, but then I suddenly felt nauseous. Thought about getting off the bus at one stop, but it was just on a bare footpath and I didn't want to throw up there (yeah, it would be *much* better to do it on a crowded bus... I think my brain wasn't quite functioning properly). Anyway, shortly thereafter I really intensively felt like I was going to vomit and then all of a sudden my knees just buckled and I fell over. Luckily enough I was against a wall and just went straight down. Don't remember feeling especially dizzy or anything, just nauseous and like my ipod was suddenly very very loud and then my legs just gave way. My favourite part was hearing an "oh là!" from someone as I did so. Ha. I got up somehow and someone gave me their seat, which was nice, but I got off at the next stop anyway, partly to get some air and partly because despite my feeble bleatings of "ça va, ça va" (I'm okay) people just kept staring at me anyway. And then I came home and slept all evening, which probably wasn't the best move, but yeah...

So just goes to show, outings are foolish and I'm much better off holed up in my apartment!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My birthday thus far

Thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes in various formats :)

I'm having a lovely day so far. After a lie-in I wandered down to the shops (lovely, sunny, warm but not hot day) to spend my birthday money. Thanks Mum & Dad for buying me a new dress! Then I went down to Place Massena to check out the first day of the Christmas markets. There's a giant ferris wheel, various children's amusements, an outdoor ice rink, English, French, and Russian carols blaring on loudspeakers, a labyrinth of Christmas trees punctuated with displays of Russian stuff (the theme is a Russian Christmas, for some reason), and lots of market stalls selling handicrafts and food and so on. I succumbed to the general Nicois desire to pretend that it's proper cold even though it's not, and got a cup of mulled wine. Once it cooled down a bit, it was actually pretty good, although it made me sleepy! The last time I had one of those was in Chamonix, where it was much more seasonally-appropriate...

Also had a bag of churros - like fried doughnut sticks, presumably of Spanish origin? - with chocolate sauce. These are either popular carnival food or popular Christmas food, because there were about 5 different stalls selling them and I couldnay resist the wafting smell of hot fat :D They were okay, a bit hard though, I'll take delicious L'il Orbits mini donuts any day! The bag was hu-age as well (should have been too, for 5 euros!) so I am feeling slightly overly replete now, even though that's all I've eaten all day (not by design, just ended up too caught up in SHOPPING). Well, there's a couple of hours till dinner still, so hopefully I'll recover!

So that was all very pleasant. Tonight a friend of mine, Klara, and her boyfriend are coming over and we're having dinner with my flatmate Emily and her boyfriend who's visiting from America. I did invite a few more people, but left it a bit late and they had things planned already - including my other flatmate who's gone to Rome. Hopefully it will be fun anyway, although I'm the odd one out with two couples... Well, should be used to that, having been single for forevs! Will let you know how my evening went at a later date.