Thursday, April 29, 2010

A real Tourist

My new home! Update: I'm moving in tomorrow, will be sleeping on the couch in the spare room/living room for at least a week until the existing flatmate moves out/my new IKEA bed arrives and is assembled (Mum has her doubts about how long that will take). Yay, has all gone smoothly so far, of course the hurdle of the first day of work is still to be passed...

St-Pierre-des-Corps (home of a big shopping centre and where most of the TGV trains seem to stop): twinned with Hebron! Wikipedia tells me that part of Hebron is under Israeli control, and part is under Palestinian, but obviously St-P-d-C has chosen which horse to back here...

Bit hard to see, this is people eating out in Place Plumereau, seemingly the most happenin' square in Tours, probably around 9.30-10 pm on a Wednesday, nice to see so many people out & that the weather permits it, after all the dire warnings they give you down south about how rubbish it's going to be!

My series on places where you can spend money begins with the Mutant store just for my Dadoo

Continues with I <3 IK chinese character chinese character

They ain't lying when they call these places 'grandes surfaces', this is one huge-ass Carrefour! The photo doesn't really show it, but all that receding off into the distance is the supermarket & I'm standing in the central aisle... This one is all pretty much food as well, unless there was some corner of clothes/electronics/etc that I missed. All that and no English cider :( There were TimTams and Vegemite, but I unfortunately like neither

The commerce section ends with my chouette hotel room - I fully recommend the Hotel Val de Loire to anyone who's going to be in the region. I have to share a loo/shower, but I get a lovely room, double bed, free wifi for 35 euro a night, right by the train station.

I will try to post more fully later, I should really get out of the hotel room!
A few quick notes:
1) A lady brought a baby on the overnight train. It was a pretty good baby, I will admit. Cried a couple of times in the night, but not endlessly & the lady took it outside. But still, baby on an overnight train COME ON! (PS my love of babies is legendary)
2) Tours is hella cool! But yesterday especially and today have been HOT. Saw a sign saying 24.5 degrees today, I don't put much faith in these things, but seems about right. Must buy some summer shoes ASAP! Wandered through the old town centre last night, and it was packed with people dining al fresco on a Wednesday, great atmosphere.
3) The buses seem better than Nice, because a) there are electronic noticeboards telling you when the next bus is due, and b) the pamphlet on the night buses list which bus lines you can take when leaving fast food restaurants and bars/clubs! Ha ha, I like! I don't like that you have to push a button to get the bus to stop, and then another button to open the doors. It's okay now I know about it, but someone looked foolish there this afternoon. In a separate incident, I totally walked into a glass door yesterday while being shown around a flat. Boo! I've already bought my bus card, but it doesn't kick in till the 1st of May (or, rather, the 2nd since of course buses don't run on May Day).
4) I looooove IKEA! That place is like a treasure trove of delight! I have been before, but this was the first time with an eye for shopping for myself. The prices! The value! The selection! The 50 cent hot dogs! What's not to love?
5) And most importantly, I have successfully found a flat. It's parfait, I think. Sharing with 1 girl of my age, who seems really nice and speaks comprehensibly woohoo, and 2 cats (yay!). It's on a residential street 1 block back from a main road, seems really quiet. Can walk to the main shops/bars district in about 15 mins max, bus to work takes about 15-20 mins as well. There's a bakery and little supermarket at the end of the road, and apparently a proper supermarket near by. Room is big, there is a spare room with couch for visitors. Very excited! Only drawback is the room's not furnished, hence the trip to IKEA. Found out I can get a double bed, mattress etc. for 140 euro, sweet! At first I thought 120 but then I asked 'c'est quoi un sommier?' and found out it means slats. Yeah, I need those... Plus delivery still comes in at less than 200. Since I really like the place, I'm staying at least a year, and I don't have to shell out for a security deposit and so can actually afford it, I think it's a reasonable investment. I looked at another place, but gut instinct was to go with this one and I think it's the right decision. :D
Okay well this ended up being a pretty long post after all...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

D-day, or, finally moving to France

So here it is, this is Christmas... Maybe not.

Anyway, just a quick post - this is moving day, hard to believe 7 months have gone by so quickly! I think everything bar the final pack is done. I teach one last class this afternoon, and while I've learned to never say never, hopefully that's it for me and teaching! One of my teachers is running me to the station for my 8 pm train (and the start of a 17, yes, 17 hour journey to Tours), so that's super nice. Yesterday we had a little afternoon tea to say goodbye to some of the teachers, they gave me & Ibi bookmarks and a bracelet, which I thought was really sweet. I had some drinks and tapas with my friend Klara and her boyfriend last night, which was great. Turns out I really like the flavour of artichokes! After the artichoke soup I had dining with my parents when they were here in January, the artichoke tapanade of last night has confirmed it!

I keep catching myself feeling like I'm leaving not just Nice, but France - like, oh I should go grab a pain au chocolat, who knows when I'll have one of those again (if anyone starts up a pool, I suggest betting heavily on 'tomorrow'). Whereas in reality, it's more like I'm moving TO France. That may sound like a silly comment from someone who's spent the last 7 months here, making a grand total of 14 months of my life in the Hexagon, but what with speaking English 90% of the time, at home and at work, my English-speaking friends (although I have French-speaking friends too), the tourists (more and more as the weather improves) and just the general atmosphere - touristy, cosmopolitan, close to Italy, full of expats, only part of France for the last 150 years - I feel more like I've been living in the People's Republic of Nice than in France per se. (Although I've never lived in Paris, I feel the same way about that - one reason why I've never seen living there as a priority.) To misquote what some blog assures me are the words of Marshal Pierre Bosquet, 'c'est magnifique, mais c'est pas la France'.

So wish me luck in my new life in France, and spare a thought for me in the course of the 17 hours from 8 pm!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Last photos from the south

Alfred Nobel's villa at Sanremo

Pictured: the problems in the Catholic Church (sorry sorry sorry, Catholic friends! For the benefit of anyone reading this who doesn't know me, I was raised Catholic so can just about get away with those kinds of jokes!)

A sand Mickey Mouse takes shape on the beach at Cannes

Disturbing ad for Orangina...

The tacky-looking Palais des Festivals at Cannes. You can just see the ad I was talking about - puppy in your pocket or something. There was some sort of an exposition or something going on while I was there, I think a TV event, people getting together to pitch show ideas or something?? Anyway, there were lots of journalists and supposedly some minor stars were in town, but I didn't see any.

Eetu, me & Sab at my leaving drinks Friday night at Sansas

Me (standing), Ibiye, Wen & Thomas (sitting)

Tony, Ibiye & Wen

Not too much to report, I went out for some leaving drinks on Friday night. Was quite pleased, it was a civilised affair, very low-key, which is what I wanted. Probably about a dozen people popped by, which was nice. I always hate hosting things because I think it will suck and be my fault, but I think it went well :)

I tried to take my suitcase to the UPS place on Friday, but I ran out of time. The wheel broke on the replacement suitcase as well, so basically it's a 30 euro carton... At the moment, you can still pull it on the other wheel, but who knows how long that will last. Anyway, I'll have to get it sent off on Monday in between my morning lesson and an afternoon tea we're having at school. Landlady is coming to inspect the flat today, so have just been cleaning and packing the last couple of days. It looks like everything else will fit in my suitcase and backpack with no worries, so that's good. Bit disturbing that I've acquired an extra 20 kg suitcase of stuff in the last 7 months, but I am taking 2 double sheets, 2 towels, and a pillow, as well as having bought some more clothes when I was in the UK and just yeah random bits and pieces I suppose.

Feel a bit more like I'm really leaving now that my room is bare, as usual it probably won't quite sink in until I'm on the train. Which reminds me, still don't have anywhere to sleep the first night! I contacted someone offering short-stay studio accommodation but haven't heard back so may have to book a hotel room, sigh. Anyway, might go take the opportunity to enjoy some sun before I go to probably chilly Tours!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Of cabbages and kings

Well, this week or whatever it's been since I last posted has been one of those where you feel like you've been really busy, but looking back, you haven't really done anything. Or at least, haven't achieved anything. Probably due to the various drinkies I've had with people... Said drinkies were *not* the reason why I overslept and missed my first class this morning - first time that's happened and it had to be my last class with them, I feel awful!

Anyway, I've been trying to plan for my move. Today I bought a suitcase, it broke before I even got it home :( So I took it back and told the guy it broke. I didn't understand what he was saying at first because I mistook the word 'poids' (weight) for 'poil' (hair), which is dumb because they don't even sound the same. Thought he was throwing some obscure idiom at me. But anyway, turned out he was saying that he would exchange the suitcase, but it wasn't made to carry heavy stuff (um, what?) so if I came back again, he wouldn't exchange it. I tried to argue with him a bit because it was not heavy - I had put some shopping and my school stuff in it on the trip home - it was maybe like 10 kgs, which I would not call heavy for the size of this suitcase, but because I had initially been confused about what he was saying, he just kept repeating the same thing like I didn't understand, so I just gave up and took the exchange. So I think I will use this suitcase to FedEx some stuff to Tours, and take my big suitcase and backpack on the train with me, cause I don't want it to break on the trip. Probably a waste of 30 euro, but as long as it gets to Tours intact I won't be too upset... but still...

That's kind of as far as I've got, other than setting up some appointments for apartments at Tours. Started to have some final lessons with the students, not a fan of goodbyes even if it's not like all emotional or anything.

A couple of other random things - I read in the paper the other day that cupcakes were supposedly the new 'tendance' (trendy) thing in France. Lo and behold, what should appear in the bakery section of my local Monoprix but tiny cupcakes imported from the USA which cost 3 euro a pop! Seriously, if you're dumb enough to pay 3 euros for a tiny cupcake that's mass-produced, pumped full of preservatives and shipped over from the States, rather than a delicious French pastry baked on the spot, you deserve it.

Also, I was sitting in front of some Kiwi chicks on the bus to Cannes the other day, who kept tossing around the word 'carnes'. Kids, despite what they might say on TV1 news every time the festival rolls around, it's pronounced more-or-less as 'can' as in 'I can I can't' :)

That's it for now I suppose. Hard to believe I leave next Tuesday arrggh lots to do, not much time and it's just slipping away so quickly. Unfortunately the weather hasn't been fantastic, kind of sunny but a bit humid & fine clouds most days. I walked from Nice to Eze the other day, got rained on half the way, but it was only spitting, and I did another walk from Cannes back towards Juan les Pins, other than that nothing exciting. I bet Tours will be like going back in time vis-à-vis the weather :( But I won't miss the intense heat and crowds of tourists in the summer here I'm sure. A+ as the French kiddies say (= à plus = laters or something along those lines)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Voyagio di giorni - discordia al treni

That's just a taste of my premium-grade Italian. I like to consider myself fluent in Italian, thanks to my foolproof method of chucking some random vowels on the ends of French words. If you learn French, you can do it too! Alternatively, I suppose you could learn Italian and then lop the ends off words: possibly even easier. To learn more, just send me $12 of your hard child-labour-earned dollars and a self-stamped envelope, eh Ranch?

Anyway, I was up very early by my standards and headed off to Italy, Sanremo to be specific, which, train-wise, is three towns over from the Italian border (and may or may not host church fairs where you can win an awesome dog of your own). I don't know what there is to see in Sanremo, which from what I understand is a faded jewel in the crown of the Italian Riviera, but it's pretty safe to say that whatever it is, I didn't see it. I saw the outside of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral (didn't go in), the outside of Alfred Nobel's house (closed Mondays), the beach from a distance (too cold), some shops, and some parks (there were actually lots of parks, nice but again, too cold). It was sort of sunny but hazy, humid while walking but a bit too windy for sitting. I tried to find somewhere to eat but failed, or a supermarket to stock up on Italian products, but no joy either.

So eventually I decided to cut my losses and go to Ventimiglia and see what was crackalacking there. When I bought my ticket, at around 1.30 I think, the train was scheduled to go at 1.47 but had a 10 minute delay - not too bad. I headed down to the platform (which is MILES away - four, count 'em, four, long moving walkways between the entrance and the platforms at Sanremo, it's like an airport. And nothing in between, I don't know what the architect was thinking) and by the time I arrived, it was showing a 30 minute delay. After a bit I headed back outside because it was too cold inside the station - coldish outside too, but at least there was sun. Sat around for a bit, saw the train was now delayed 40 mins, and eventually headed back to the platforms when the train was due in about 10 minutes. But they kept pushing back the time - 45, 50, 55, 60, until finally about 1h5 mins late (and thus after the next scheduled train was theoretically due), it arrived. I had been lucky not to have any problems on the way to Ventimiglia in the morning, despite train strikes in France having been ongoing for the last week or so. Not sure if they are striking in Italy too or what - the train was only coming from Genoa which has to be like 30 minutes away. Actually I just saw there was a train derailment somewhere in northern Italy near Austria, not sure how far away from where I was, but maybe that had something to do with it...

Anyway, I found out pretty quickly when I got to Ventimiglia that there were a lot of cancelled trains (not) heading in to France, so I got a ticket for the next one, in an hour and a half, and went to mill about in the vicinity. This time I at least found a tourist-centred minimart with suprisingly low prices, although presumably a supermarket would have been even better had I been able to find one. Pretty much the entire economy of these Italian border towns seems to be based on selling cheap liquor and Italian food to French people hopping over the border. Everywhere else seemed to be shut, so after walking round a little bit I just got a courgette tart from the train station cafe and a gelato, both adequate but not outstanding, and waited on the platform - thankfully the train was on time at 4.45, finally got back to Nice at around 6 pm, so a mere 4 1/2 hours after I first tried to set off from Sanremo, although of course I had always intended to stop off in Ventimiglia for a bit, so it wasn't actually that bad apart from waiting at Sanremo which was mostly annoying because the time kept changing so I couldn't just go and come back.

But yeah, fairly long, boring, and pointless day, but I did come back stocked up with various cheap fresh pastas and Italian chocolate, including a pack of 'limited edition' dark chocolate Kinder Duplo bars (Bueno likes to talk the talk with its name, but it's Duplo that has my heart, although I usually don't get them cos they're overpriced at least here in France). So that part was worth it at least!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cans in Cannes

I walked all this way and back again!

The beach about halfway between Cannes and La Napoule

Castle by the beach at La Napoule

The beach near the Cannes port

I don't really have much to say about Cannes, where I went for the first time on Saturday, except that it was a gorgeous sunny day and I enjoyed lying on a sandy beach again. The blog title is an awful, immature reference to the fact that there were a lot of boobs on show, if I were a 14 year-old boy, I would have been in heaven!

Not being a 14 year-old boy, I wasn't all that impressed by Cannes. To be fair, I got off the bus pretty much in the centre of the shopping bit I think, and then headed down, around the port, and to the beach, so I actually didn't see all that much of Cannes proper. I lay on the beach for a while and then I started walking towards a town I could see in the distance - didn't actually realise at first that I was effectively walking out of Cannes. Ended up walking what I am informed is a bit over 7 km, to La Napoule, where I spent some more time on the beach, and then walked allll the way back to Cannes, so over 14 km :)

I actually went the wrong way for the famous 'Croisette', so I suppose I should go back and walk the other way for the full Cannes experience. I think I saw the place where they hold the Cannes film festival, although it was very ingloriously covered with ads for some sort of Polly Pocket-type thing, so if it was the place, not at all glamorous!

I had my first encounter with a tourist asking if I spoke English, and I said 'a little bit' which was supposed to be a joke but completely didn't work as one. Won't do that again... Then on the train back I was reading a French woman's mag which had a fashion spread with girls wearing cut-off jeans so short that the pockets hung out below the line of the jeans. I was all 'that looks so stupid' and then 5 minutes later, there's a dumb American tourist wearing them! I probably sound completely anti-American here, but the shorts do look stupid and I'm basing the dumb comment on the fact that we were all waiting to get off the train and she was standing in front of the button and didn't press it. Which, yeah, happens when you travel I know... But tourists just annoy me generally (hypocrite!) especially when they talk really loudly in English, which she was.

Also, some Italian tramp came up while I was eating my lunch and asked me if I spoke English and I was actually really super-rude to him, which I now feel bad about. Much like I hate tourists speaking English loudly, I hate people assuming I'm an English-speaker off the bat and addressing me accordingly. Although a) this is probably a good tramp technique to maximise your gains in a touristy place and b) maybe he didn't even speak French. But, you know, I'm also not a super fan of people asking me for money, kinda grown out of being the bleeding-heart I was when I first came to Europe, at least as far as tramps are concerned. There's so many of them and the state is so generous that even I, a foreigner, technically qualify for housing assistance, I'm sure there's all kinds of help out there for them. This whole post is starting to make me sound kind of fascisty! I'm actually not a terrible person, I swear! (And I'm liberal politically, but not sounding that way today!!) You just get sick of people begging... two homeless people have taken over the bus-stop where I get off for school most days, luckily it's not where I catch the bus home so I don't have to hang around there, but still, you have to walk over them every day... Okay, seriously, rant over, quit before I look even worse! Ciao!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Photos & holiday course

Couple of photos from my walk along the Prom the other day, then photos from the Cap d'Antibes

Funny-coloured (presumably sandy) sea at Nice

The beach at Nice

View of the Baie des Anges, Nice

Little castely thing in the sea on the Cap d'Antibes

Coastal rocks on the Cap d'Antibes mimic the Alps behind them

Looking across the bay at Antibes to the Alps

More Alps

The Alps seen from the beach at Antibes

So today was my first day teaching the 'intensive' holiday course, which is taking place not at my school but at a Lycée Professional. My school is a general high school i.e. normal academic subjects like literature, English, business, science, philosophy etc. This is a vocational school - the students I talked to are studying things like to be a mechanic, receptionist/secretary, fashion, to work in social services or freight handling (seriously). I'm not sure if I agree with funnelling kids into a vocation from the age of 15 or whatever, but maybe it's a way to keep kids in education who in NZ or wherever would just drop out as soon as they could and go work or do an apprenticeship anyway. Most of the kids at my school (which is supposedly one of the best in Nice) are white, whereas nearly all these kids were Arab. I couldn't help but wonder (and shoot me if I sound any more like Carrie from Sex and the City) whether this was a result of institutional racism, or the effect of their parents maybe not having the best jobs or the best education, or if it was just a coincidence. I mean, I could be completely wrong - this is a voluntary course, so maybe there are tons of white kids at the school and turns out the kids of Arab descent are the only ones motivated enough to turn up in their school holidays. And maybe this is just me being a huge snob anyway - of course I do believe in education, but the world needs mechanics and plumbers and receptionists and if the kids want to do this then good luck to them, and they've probably got a good chance of earning a damn sight more money than I'll ever see with my two Masters degrees!

Anyway, politics aside, on the whole these kids' English was baaaaaad. I started out talking to the first group how I'd talk to any of my classes - that is, slowly and clearly of course but not crazily so. Turns out they didn't understand pretty much anything. Things like "do you like English" (no, usually), "why don't you like English?" were a real struggle for them, not just in terms of answering the questions, but understanding them too. So I was pretty proud of myself that I abandoned the plans I had and we played a game (I had 4 different 40 minute sessions with about 6 kids each time) that worked pretty well and I think they even enjoyed, judging from the squeals and laughter. It was the game where you have one less chair than there are people and you have to say something like "switch chairs if you're wearing a necklace" and everyone has to get up and you try to steal their seat and the last one standing has to do the next round. Was sliiightly alarmed that someone was going to end up cracking their head open in the fight for a chair, but it went pretty well I think, we all had fun including me.

Tomorrow I think I'll do a song with them, and then there are 3 students who came from my school and whoever's running the programme has decided to send them to me by themselves for the second half of the morning, because they are obviously at a higher level than the lycée professional students, so I'll work with them on a bit more advanced stuff.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Worst sense of direction ever

Photos to follow, but must be quick cos starting tomorrow I'm teaching an 'intensive' English holiday course for the next four days, and I'm kiiiiinda not prepared. I mean, I'm planning just to pretty much rehash 'getting to know you' type activities from my first days teaching, but I have three hours to fill and that's kinda daunting, so should really have some back-up stuff.

Anyway, having, as you know, made it to Italy, it's time to go the other way. Last week I did walk all the way along the Prom to the airport and back, but that was insufficiently exciting for a blog post so yeah. Today I took the train to Juan-les-Pins, which sounds like a really fun name to say ('pins' in French sounding kinda like 'pan' in a nasally French accent) until you realise that they don't actually pronounce 'Juan' like in Spanish, it sounds more like Jean, so less fun.

As it happens, that was merely the first disappointment of the day. The aim was to walk around the Cap d'Antibes from Juan-les-Pins to Antibes. Interesting things the interwebs had told me I could see on the way: Roman Abramovitch's villa, a lighthouse, a church (whether it was an especially exciting church, I know not), a 'stations of the cross' pilgrims' walk. Number of these things I saw (or at least not consciously, in the case of Abramovitch): none.

And this despite the fact that I liked the walk *so* much, I did half of it twice. Which is to say that I somehow got confused and, after walking for 1 3/4 hours, ended up back in Juan-les-Pins. D'oh! Now, this does sound incredibly thick, so I will explain that I was walking up the centre of the peninsula, as advised by the internet, and came to an unmarked intersection, so decided to follow the way that the bus went to Antibes (sensible, no?). Then when I came to the next intersection, it had a sign saying 'Antibes par le bord de mer' e.g. Antibes by the sea-side route. So I thought, oh cool, so far there really has not been much to look at up the centre of the peninsula, and no views to speak of, so I'll follow this down to the sea and continue on. To the best of my recollection, the sign didn't also say 'Juan-les-Pins this way' but you never know. Anyway, in pretty short order, I did indeed end up in Juan-les-Pins...

I made the best of it by getting a gelato, going to a horrible public toilet awash in a sea of urine (sorry, but it was gross) (PS thankfully, it was in that order as well), and sitting on the beach at Juan-les-Pins for a bit. Then I decided to do the walk again. This time I discarded the advice of the stupid interwebs and took the coastal path - really pretty!

The best part was getting to Antibes, which has a real live sandy beach that I sat on for a bit, and a gorgeous view of snow-capped mountains. Beach, palm trees, snowy peaks - what a combination! Absolutely magnificent. After a bit, I walked into town, missed the first bus back to Nice because I needed change for the bus (the first cash machine I tried would only give money in multiples of 50 euro - that's when you fricking know people in these parts are too bloody rich).

Route map: The bit I did twice (start/re-start of the walk) is in purple, phase two is in red and phase three is in blue. Around 3 hours altogether.

Might go back to Antibes before I leave these parts, have been wanting to go to the Picasso museum there, and the (still not too crowded) beach is a real treat compared with the rocky/gritty ones around here.

Okay, must stop procrastinating! Ciao!