Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gwan's Year in Review

So I wrote this entire post, which as (especially if you're a blogger) you will see took a REALLY long time, and then in an epic Blogger fail, somehow the entire content (which WAS saved), including the title and tags, got replaced with the text and photos from my last post about my birthday. And I couldn't get it back. Gutted. So I waited a few days, and here I am doing it all again. Sigh. So, it's a long one, but lie back and think of the hours it took to write... So I hereby present the inaugural edition of:

Gwan's Year in Review


It was the worst of times...

Getting the bad stuff over with first, once again this year has not been all sunshine. (And I partly mean that literally, given that I swear it rained from the end of March till July.) Of course, the big downer of the year was finding out, by mail, that my work contract was not being renewed, despite all assurances I'd had to the contrary, and just six weeks before the contract was due to expire. Looking back at the post I wrote at the time, I'd forgotten how many other little things seemed to go wrong at the same time. I also didn't really have a clue that, 9 months later, I'd still be doing nothing and literally wasting my life. In the interim, I've had periods of looking for and "looking for" work, with equal success. It's pretty hard to stay focused and positive when it seems that every day only takes you further away from the possibility of finding something else and even adapting back to having a "normal" life again. Sadly, I've also learnt that, of my 7 former colleagues, all except one have either been let go or moved on to other projects (if they were on permanent contracts). Apart from feeling bad for my colleagues, this also makes me feel that the 2 years I spent working on the project were just a complete waste of time (and money), especially since a lot of the work I did never even made it on to our website.


What's next?

There is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel though. I have something in the works, which, if all goes to plan, will kick off next May. This will have to remain shrouded in mystery for the time being, since as we all know, there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip and the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (or insert your own 21st century saying here). I will say that it'll be a major change, and I should know more in February but we will see...

It was the best of times...

On a more positive note, the year wasn't all doom and gloom. I've got to say, my best times have probably involved hanging out with friends and family. The year brought visits from my friends Rick and Greg and my sister, I met blogfriends Mary Kay and Ella and caught up with my old friend Alice in Le Mans. Close to home, I made jelly out of rosé wine, accidentally ate an eel and purposely ate some donkey (ass sausage!), shook my bon bon at the Fête de la Musique and the Guinguette, made an 80s-style photo story out of dying my hair, painted my nails a patriotic tricolour for Bastille Day, fought with French men, carved Halloween pumpkins for the very first time and drank a lot of wine.

But, maybe because it's fresh in my mind, I think the best of the year has got to be my triple birthday celebrations - one for every decade! I got to catch up with a lot of friends and family in London, had my first trip to (Euro)Disney followed by a blogger brunch in Paris and then capped off the whole thing by beating my Personal Best for champagne drinking here in Tours. It really was fabulous fun, and I'm so glad I did something (or three things) special for the occasion. After all, a girl doesn't turn 30 every year (but I might try it on again next year)!

Best trip abroad

Of course, travel is one of my favourite things and I never feel I've done enough or been to everywhere I want to go. But looking back, I actually have managed my fair share of globetrotting this year.

  • I started my travels off early, with a January trip to York. Looking back, I see I referred to this as Business of Mystery and then never actually revealed the purpose of the visit. It was actually to attend an Open Day at the York University Centre for Medieval Studies, to meet with some of the staff and discuss the possibility of doing a PhD with them. While the facilities there were outstanding, and I had some very positive discussions with potential supervisors, as you can probably tell, I didn't end up moving to York and starting a PhD. I actually applied (and was accepted) to Bristol, but a combination of not having the money for it and not being 100% sure of my motivation led to me declining the place. Maybe one day though (this is not the news referred to above btw)...

  • In February, I took a spontaneous trip to Barcelona. My primary motivation for the visit was going to watch the pre-season Formula One testing, which was great, but I also got a real kick out of just walking around the city and especially visiting the spectacular Sagrada Familia church (ceiling detail pictured above). The weather was also a real bonus - I think it got up to about 20 degrees, which was bliss considering just a couple of weeks before we had been hit by a cold snap which brought snow, temperatures down to -11° and partially froze the Loire river.

  • The March Catastrophe naturally put the brakes on my travelling somewhat, but I did already have a short break booked to London for my sister's birthday. We took advantage of some gorgeous weather to check out Greenwich, including the Observatory and the Painted Hall, had a lovely dinner and a birthday knees-up with lots of champagne. I also stopped by Cambridge, where I managed not to kill my friend's baby, despite him making all kinds of snuffling noises which suggested he was gearing up to die just to spite me.

  • After that, things were quiet on the international travelling front until I kicked off a very busy period in August. First up was a trip to Amsterdam on the 5€ Overnight Bus of Discomfort. Probably because of the horrible bus trip and 5.30 am arrival into Amsterdam, I was especially pissy for most of the trip - the Rijksmuseum was a particular disappointment - and didn't really end up having a brilliant time. However, I was very moved visiting Anne Frank's house and happy to eat some poffertjes!

  • Before heading back to France, I had another couple of days in Lancashire, plus we crossed over the windswept Pennines for a jaunt into Yorkshire in order to visit Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters.

And the winner is...

Victory has got to go to Norway. It was so amazingly, breathtakingly beautiful and it was lovely hanging out with my parents (even more so considering it wasn't in the same old Lancashire towns!) Norway is not a destination I probably would have picked off the top of my head, so I really went in without any preconceptions and was blown away by how gorgeous it was. I'd love to go back some day and see Bergen and the surrounding fjords, because I've heard good things.

Runner-up: Barcelona. I have wanted to go to Barcelona for a while, since everyone seems to like it, but the actual trip was very spur-of-the-moment and it was great to take off on a whim for some warm winter weather, F1, and beautiful sights.

What's next?

In a few weeks, I'm using up the air miles I earned flying from NZ to Milan back in 2009 before they expire, with a quick jaunt to Bologna and Padua. Basically, I only had enough for a one-way flight, so this was the only destination I could find where the return trip was also reasonably priced. But funnily enough, Padua just recently went on my wish list after seeing a documentary which included a trip to the amazing Scrovegni Chapel, so good timing!

Best day/overnight trip

We'll always have Paris...

Paris gets its own subcategory, because I feel like I've been there every two minutes lately.

  • In reality, my first visit was a day on the way back from Barcelona in February, spent admiring Foucault's Pendulum and the graves of some famous (mostly) men at the Pantheon.

  • Finally, it was back to Paris one last time for the aforementioned trip to Disneyland (well, this is strictly speaking Marne-la-Vallée, but if they can call it Disneyland Paris I'm counting it) and a blogger brunch hosted by the gracious Mary Kay, where I got to meet a lot of lovely blogging ladies and drink champagne in the naughty seats with Ella.

Touraine travels

I also made the most of having a discount card for the trains (up till October) to explore some more of the sights in my home region. It's easy sometimes to get blasé about the stuff on your doorstep, but it's worth remembering that people the world over dream of visiting the Loire Valley, and there definitely is a lot to see and do (and eat and drink)!

  • As mentioned, March brought a trip from my good friend Rick. While we mostly just hung out around Tours, we did take a daytrip to the Château de Chenonceau, definitely one of the most stunning in the area. I was initially not too keen on the idea, since I'd already visited twice before, but I must say, we had a great time. We made our own fun by pulling out silly poses all over the château and gardens, and it was nice as well to see it in the spring (previous visits being in winter and late summer).

  • In July, I headed to Loches, where I found the twin brother statue to one of Peter the Great which stands at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, learnt all about the mysterious death of royal mistress Agnès Sorel, and climbed up a scary 36 metre-high 11th-century castle keep.

  • Next up in July was a jaunt to Saumur and the nearby Fontevraud Abbey. I love my history, so I'd been itching to go to Fontevraud Abbey and see the tombs of Plantagenet kings and queens ever since I learnt the place existed. So it was perhaps a bit inevitable that I was somewhat disappointed with the visit. It was nice to see the tombs, but the rest of the abbey was fairly empty and the guided tour didn't really seem to bring the history alive for me. Still, the little I saw of Saumur seemed nice and I'd like to go back to see a bit more of the town (and taste some of its tasty sparkling wine) some time.

  • My last trip for July was to Le Mans, to meet my friend Alice for the first time since early 2008. It took us a bit of purposeless wandering before we managed to find the Old Town, but I was pleasantly surprised when we did. A particular highlight was the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Chevet in the cathedral, a beautiful bijou space with painted frescoes dating from the 14th C (pictured above).

  • My last hurrah with my train discount card was a trip to Angers, to see its famous Tapestry of the Apocalypse. This was just incredible. I know tapestries can be dull sometimes - they're rarely the most vibrant or eye-grabbing objets d'art - but these are just packed full of amazing (and surreal) detail that captivate the attention despite the faded colours and dim lighting. I loved hearing all about their history and the significance of the different scenes, and then just spent a long time quietly contemplating them on my own (plus I think I took photos of every single panel at least once).

  • My final daytrip of the year was a wine and cheese tasting fest in Saint-Maure-de-Touraine and Chinon. Chinon is probably my favourite of the small Touraine towns I've visited, and we managed to have fun despite getting rained on, being invited to spit on the floor of a barn, failing to find anywhere to eat lunch, starting a blood feud with a staff member at Couly-Dutheil and finding a spider in my hair.

And the winner is...

This is a tough category! I'll cheat a little bit and say that my favourite tourist experience was visiting the Apocalypse Tapestry, the Louvre exhibition was the best museumy experience, while my blog brunch and Chenonceau trip were extra-special for the good company.

So that was Gwan's 2012. 

I've got to say, going through my year (twice!) was a good exercise in showing myself that, even amidst hard times, I did manage to do some cool things, with some great people. And I'm lucky to live in a nice place, with enough money to get by and cheap wine on tap! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the good times of 2012 and here's hoping for a better 2013. Merry Christmas and cheers!


  1. Wow, what a post! Amazing that you had the tenacity/discipline to do it all over again after losing the first version. So glad you did, as I enjoyed it very much. Merry Christmas and I am sure 2013 will be (even) better. M xxx

    1. That's good! As you know, I think of the blog as a record for me as much as anything, so it was fun (at least once) looking back and I'm happy to have the post as a snapshot of the year for me to look back on in the future! And it was a good reminder to back up my blog again!

  2. PHew! I am with anonymous, great admiration for doing this twice. I have done my own refection on 2012 for posting on 31st Dec and it is much shorter that this, but seemed to take AGES!

    Anyway, it was nice to walk alongside you part of the way. Amazing how I have also been to lots of the same places. (sorry that sounds like I am stalking you!LOL! which I am not. I went to Barcelona and Amsterdam FIRST)

    I am glad I found your blog.

    Happy New Year.
    Love Denise

    1. Ha ha, I'm stalking you, I hoped you wouldn't notice! That's so sweet, me too and have a wonderful new year!

  3. It does look like a very cool year! Happy Xmas!! xxx

    1. Hope you had a lovely day xxx

  4. How in brouhaha did this entire post get erased?!? Oy vey. I'm so sorry. Thanks for the head's up that this is capable of happening.

    Ok, on to the post...I'm so glad that you redid it. It really is a wonderful recap of your eventful year!!!

    "..not having the money for it and not being 100% sure of my motivation" Omg. That was EXACTLY why I declined my AUP application. I couldn't pay for it and wasn't even sure why I applied. How funny. Glad it's not just me! I felt flakey after declining...

    "I managed not to kill my friend's baby, despite him making all kinds of snuffling noises which suggested he was gearing up to die just to spite me." AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA I SO remember this post!!! Hilarious!! I'm really laughing out loud...just like I did when I read the original post. Asshole babies, I tell ya... there out there

    Paris "...I feel like I've been there every two minutes lately." Quelle diva! LOVE IT!!

    AHHHH RATTY MEN! He was not ratty. He was adorable...and available! Beauty really does surround us... : P

    It was so nice meeting you too this year and am absolutely honored that I made it into the recap! Thank you! You had a wonderful year, now let's see was 2013 brings us all! Happy New Year..and again, EXCELLENT post!!

    1. What a lovely comment, warm fuzzies! :)

      Argggh I don't know, I was fixing something in the HTML of the *other* post, but why that would erase *this* post - and like I said, it was every bit of it, so not just like I accidentally copied and pasted the text. Grrrr!

      No, I think you definitely need to be sure when committing to something like that. Especially when it's as expensive as it is! Studying is hard enough if you're totally motivated!

      Ha yeah, Paris, pfffff... Old news ;)

      It was great to meet you too, and of course you made the recap! We already know 2013 is going to be a fabulous new leaf for you, so fingers crossed here too!

  5. An impressive post for an impressive year! You've even included all the photos and links, which I can never be bothered to do!

    I hope you love Bologna as much as I did. I've finally finished writing about it on my Italian blog but I left it so long the posts are probably not as useful as they should be because I forgot the names of everything. But if you need any bar recommendations, let me know and I'll ask my friends there where we actually went.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the big mystery of 2013!

    1. Thanks for the tip, I don't look at your Italian blog often but will head over now to see what you thought. I never remember names either/think people won't care where I ate, so don't worry!


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