Thursday, January 09, 2014

Gwan's Year in Review - 2013

Here goes, the second annual installment of my wrap-up of the year according to Gwan. I enjoyed reading through my report on 2012 again, and I know I'll have fun looking back through my 2013 experiences, even if it takes a really long time to put this together!

2013: A year of changes

So I managed to say a lot of positive things in last year's wrap-up, but it really was a year of disaster. I lost my job and spent the majority of the year unemployed and a bit depressed, which is no good in anyone's book. So I'm especially proud of myself that I managed to shake things off, pull myself together and get back into the working world. (PS I don't mean to imply that clinically depressed people just need to shake things off and pull themselves together.)

The turning-point came with a new job in Tours. Thank goodness I got it, because I think if an information job for an English-speaker had magically come up and I hadn't got it, it might just about have put the nail in the coffin of my hopes and dreams of ever getting back on the work horse. The unfortunate side-effect of getting the job, which I never discussed on the blog, was that I was actually meant to do an EVS volunteer project in Moldova, starting in May. Unfortunately, by the time the Tours job started in April, I still hadn't heard anything back about it. I think they finally contacted me about two weeks out from the start date - even if I hadn't gotten a job, it would obviously have been really difficult to pack everything up and move to Moldova within two weeks. I was pretty gutted to lose out on this opportunity in order to spend 5 months working in info management, but I think sticking with the job was definitely the grown-up, sensible thing to do, and I am really grateful that I was able to get my life back on track.

When I learned the contract in Tours wasn't going to be renewed, the race was on to find something else before I found myself back in the dark place of unemployment. After a few frantic weeks of scouring the web, online applications and surprise telephone interviews, an opportunity came through... All the way in a little country called Luxembourg across France's eastern border. 

I'm not going to say the move wasn't stressful. From touring a near-slum to accidentally insulting a secret real estate agent, figuring out where to live and how to move myself there on a serious time budget (and money budget) was tricky. Even after I found my new apartment, I got seriously delayed thanks to an airport strike, screamed at by my old estate agent and almost failed to hire a van. When I finally got to the new place, I had to start a new job while living without electricity for nearly a week, a phone for a couple of weeks and internet for about three weeks. I'm sort of tempted to move again, since I don't like where I live and it's a long commute every day, but I don't think I can face another move for a while!

I miss my friends in Tours a lot and don't love everything about my new life, but overall it's been a positive move. Again, I'm very happy to be working and I've been doing a pretty solid job settling in to Lux/Lorraine life.

And now on to the awards portion of the evening -

Best trip abroad

I seem to have some sort of travel amnesia. I think it's because I'm always eager to go to the next destination, so I tend to think that it's been aaaaaages since my last trip and I haven't been aaaanywhere in any given year. Au contraire, I've actually ventured beyond l'Hexagone on a number of occasions again this year.

  • The year began with a mid-January pick-me-up trip to Italy. I had some airmiles to burn, and picked the destination of Bologna more-or-less at random based on how much a return flight would set me back (since I only had enough miles for one-way). I actually made my way straight to Padua, in order to fulfil a recently-acquired ambition of seeing Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel.

This was one of the most amazing places I've seen in my life. The photos don't do it any justice. Definitely, definitely, if you get the chance, do go here. And even better if you go in the middle of winter and are as lucky as I was to be left all alone to contemplate it in peace for a full 40 minutes.

I also ate, drank, and took surreptitious photos of the devil and overt photos of flayed bodies in Bologna.

I took advantage of the free trip in order to take a little side visit to Bruges, which was icy cold and quite pretty. There I fell in love with a Turkish rug, or rather the painting of one in van Eyck's Madonna of Canon van der Paele in the Groeningen Museum. 

  • After that, it was back to gainful employment, so I didn't have a chance for any travels abroad until my July trip to Luxembourg to interview for my current position. Thinking that if things went badly I might never go back to Luxembourg again, I stayed overnight and had the time to wander around taking in the sights of Luxembourg on a particularly hot summer's day. I squeezed in a second quick trip in the middle of August, for a bit of stressful international house hunting, before obviously ending up spending 5-6 days a week here currently.

  • More exciting than Luxembourg, in August I headed back to Belgium to meet up with my family and take a trip to Liège/Spa with my Dad to watch the Belgian Grand Prix. While the race (and the rest of the season) didn't pan out quite as I would have hoped, I'll never forget the high of seeing Lewis Hamilton get up to take pole at the last second of Q3 - a sentiment that was shared, it seemed, by the majority of the crowd at Eau Rouge. (Sorry to those of you who think that sentence might as well have been written in Japanese...) It was also great to spend some time with my Dad: I'm especially proud of our military-style logistical efficiency in getting to and from the circuit on the three days (no easy feat!)
We also got to briefly hang out together back in Brussels, including a bit of a naughty drunken singalong with my sister, which left me slightly the worse for wear the next day!

  • We had a few more days in England on the way back too, where I got to hang out with my family and the lovely Rick, which mostly consisted of roaming around the English countryside in the Sandiego family mobile karaoke machine (we also solve mysteries in our spare time), avoiding the rain and looking for Hadrian's Wall.
  • I debated whether to put my daytrip to Trier in the "trip abroad" category, which probably shows I've become blasé about such things, given that I cross an international border on a daily basis. Germany is legitimately a different country though (last time I checked), so here it is. We popped across the border to visit the Karl Marx museum (utterly bereft of all things Marx, btw) and visit a true blue German Christmas market. Prost!
  • For my last trip of the year, it was back to England again - that makes two trips to England, two to Belgium and two to Italy. Quite a strange year, travel-wise! I spent Christmas chez my lovely friend Liz in the South West, and then we scuttled off to London for my first New Year's Eve in the capital! (Blogposts to come...)

And the winner is...

For the second year running (last year, it was Norway), the family holiday takes it out for the best travel experience of the year. Great spending time with Mum and Dad, and this time round we got tans and limoncello thrown in to boot!

Best domestic trip

I didn't have quite as much free time on my hands as last year (at least from April onwards), although I did have more money of course! 

  • One good thing about staying in Tours was that I got to claim my ticket to the wedding of the season, i.e. the wedding of the lovely Ella Coquine. In classic Ella style, not everything went smoothly as we raced across (and out of Paris) to get her to the mairie on time. Still, it was a beautiful, memorable, and most of all FUN occasion. Félicitations my dear & thank you for having me!
  • I "profited", as the French would say, from being in the Ile de France to go to nearby Fontainebleau, which is worth the interminable walk from the train station with a hangover to see its magnificent interiors.
  • I had intended to get to some more Loire châteaux before the Metz move, but I only managed to add Villandry to the mix. It's right up there with the best though, especially the gorgeous gardens.

And the winner is...

For sheer craziness and the brilliant story that came out of it, the nod has got to go to Dijon. The city itself was perfectly nice, we had some good food, mostly good weather and the museum was fabulous, but just goes to show that sometimes it's all about the company you're with!

What's next?

As you know, my contract in Luxembourg has been extended for the whole of this year. This, theoretically, means I could move closer to work than Metz, but I'm still weighing up my options for a number of reasons. The last move wiped me out a bit financially and also was exhausting, so maybe not just yet. 

In travel terms, I'm off to Brussels again for a long weekend next week, so stay posted for that (plus my Christmas/New Year wrapup). And then ??? There is talk with the Tours girls of a February break somewhere, but there hasn't been any actual planning. I'm kind of caught between the need to get on it quickly to snap up good deals (especially if we're going by train) and the fact that my bank balance is a bit sad after the UK sales (I got some good stuff though!) I haven't got around to even thinking of summer holidays yet, but I'm sure I'll be on the road somewhere this year, you can't keep a wandering Gwan down!

Happy New Year to all!