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.
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...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 abroadOf 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!
- A few days later, I flew into North-West England and shortly thereafter, back out again to Norway with my Mum and Dad. We were lucky enough to get perfect weather for almost the whole trip, as we explored Oslo, including the Museum of Cultural History and the Munch Museum and took a drive up to Sunndalsora, where we explored some of the fjords and the Trollstigen, a road which boasts 11 hairpin bends as it climbs up 850 metres at a 9% gradient.
- 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.
- That was the last of my trips until late November, when I popped back over to London, as hitherto mentioned, to celebrate my birthday. As well as my birthday drinks, I visited the Courtauld Institute and the Wallace Collection, and explored a bit of the hidden history of London at Temple Church, the Museum of the Order of St. John and Sir John Soane's house.
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.
- In June, it was back up for a job interview (which I'm still a bit upset about, since I felt I prepared really well and would have been good at the job but just didn't do great at the interview). On this overnight trip, I did my best to kill myself on a footpath-less highway, saw a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of leaves from the Très Belles Heures du Duc de Berry at the Louvre (pictured) and had a curious encounter with a possibly dodgy, but handsome, cop with Mary Kay.
- In August, I bookended my trip to Amsterdam with days in Paris either side. Beforehand, I communed with kings and queens at the Basilica St. Denis and on the way back, I explored the Marais, learnt about the history of Paris at the Musée Carnavalet, crashed a wedding and was shouted at by an old crone for sitting in her chair.
- I headed back again the next month for a day trip to catch up with my cousins and uncle who were over visiting from New Zealand. We ate frog's legs, strolled down the Champs Elysées and stood around outside the Louvre. I also had the pleasure of meeting up with blogfriend Ella and hanging out together in a dive bar with a welcoming crowd of locals and a little ratty man.
- 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 travelsI 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!