2006 - Move to Europe, Take One
These were tumultuous times for young Gwan. Fresh from finishing my Masters, I came to Europe with a vague plan - do a CELTA English teaching course in Prague, find a job, preferably in Russia, and see how things panned out. Things panned out as planned for a short time, before derailing as I discovered I pretty much hated teaching and was bad at it.
- Visiting the "bone church" at Kutna Hora, a spooky spot that had been on my bucket list from back when I never really thought I'd go to any of these places
- I visited Vienna, and it's not hard to see why it always ranks highly in the lists of "most liveable cities". It's clean, orderly, and has more grand, imposing imperial sites than you can shake a stick at. The Kunsthistorischesmuseum and Schönbrunn Palace were particular favourites.
|Fountain near the town hall|
- Cesky Krumlov is also a destination I heartily recommend if you ever find yourself in the area. The town is encircled by a loop of river and overlooked by a cute castle. Plus you might see the CK goat if you're lucky
- I had my wallet stolen or otherwise misplaced just before I had to buy a visa and plane ticket to Moscow, leaving me with only a 100€ traveller's cheque (omg, remember traveller's cheques?!?), no money, no cards, and an appointment to be in Russia in a week to start a new job. I kind of look back now and marvel at my resilience and determination. I can't imagine organising myself to move to Russia within the space of a week with no money now, but somehow I managed. It's also weird to look back at what a different world it was. Sure, we had the internet at home since I was about 13 years old, but I headed off to Europe with no laptop (and no smartphone, obviously) and had to do all my organising and blogging from internet cafés. Finding the Russian consulate was a matter of wandering to vaguely the right part of town, bothering the guy at the embassy in broken Russian, and then using a paper map to get to where I actually needed to be. We've come a long way, baby (but maybe travel isn't quite as exciting as it used to be?)
- Life in Moscow mostly consisted of commuting a lot and teaching badly, but it was pretty interesting to see Russian life from the inside. I studied some Russian language/culture/history at university, and I've long been fascinated with the place. I'm glad I went when I did, because it's pretty much off the table for me at the moment. I used my time there to make observations about money, the poor, public transport, and (Western) Christmas in Moscow. And best of all, the broom in our apartment was just a bundle of sticks.
2007 - I quit and moved to France (the first time)
So, I didn't stop hating teaching, and shortly after my mini New Year break, I quit. Thus lasting a glorious two months or so in Moscow. After a brief and unfulfilling stint in London and a surprise trip back to Prague, I moved to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais (or is that the Hauts-de-France?) for five months, then down to Chamonix before quitting again in a blaze of glory. I see a trend here...
- New Year's Eve in Moscow is definitely something to experience once in your life. A mix of abject terror as people throw fireworks at and around you, and wonder at the pretty colours (and concern about losing toes to frostbite).
|I'm still annoyed I lost my nifty detachable hood somewhere|
- Going to the Kremlin and Lenin's tomb was pretty cool. Still annoyed with myself that I never went in St. Basil's Cathedral.
|Hooded again, at the Kremlin|
- Am glad I made it to St. Petersburg - still one of the best cities I've ever been to. The Hermitage is amazing, and the city itself is gorgeous on a sunny winter's day. I also went to Tsarskoe Selo, a palace outside St. Petersburg.
|The Bronze Horseman|
- Living in a holiday camp in northern France was a bit of a weird one. It instilled camaraderie, but also intense irritation and boredom. I compared it to living in the Big Brother house at the time. I got paid to see all the wonders of northern France and Belgium, but five months was definitely enough.
- Then it was on to Chamonix, where I got a job that I hated about as much as teaching. To this day, I pretty much hate speaking French on the phone after two months of being shouted at and hung up on by mean French people. On the bright side, Chamonix is a super place to party, and I fitted in quick trips to Italy and Switzerland while I was there.
2008 - Back to school
The blog was not busy in 2008, as I packed in the Chamonix job before the New Year, retreated to England to be looked after by Mum and Dad, and had a couple quick trips before heading back to New Zealand and back to university.
- I got robbed again, yay! This time, the thief struck on the sleeper train between Prague and Krakow, which I later heard is notorious for such things.
- We then visited Auschwitz, which feels a bit wrong in the "highlights" category, but was a moving experience.
- My last trip before heading home was to Istanbul, which was chaotic but fun. Here, it was my friend who got pickpocketed, not me, score! It also houses one of my all-time favourite sites, the Chora Church.
2009 - Europe calling
After wrapping up my Masters, I quit my job (yes, again) for the chance to move to Nice as an English teaching assistant. This time around, teaching didn't suck quite so much (the "assistant" part of the deal helped a lot). I was poor and had some I-hate-you problems with a flatmate, but I had plenty of free time and was living in a really beautiful part of the world.
- Before heading to Nice, I had a couple of weeks in Italy. I got to go to my first Formula One race, in Monza:
- I saw the works I studied in high school Art History classes, sometimes via black and white photocopies, for realsies, and soaked up some history in Rome:
|The Brancacci chapel (Florence)|
- Between cultural visits, I walked between the villages of the Cinque Terre, pre-floods, before heading to Genoa
- And then to Nice, where for the next seven months I continued exploring the coast on foot. As I write, it's just a few days after the terrorist attacks there, which makes reflecting on my time in the city somewhat bittersweet. Yes, the lives lost are not more important just because it's somewhere I know well, but I think it is only human nature to be more affected if you feel a personal connection.
|A ship heading out from the port at Nice|
2010 - Get a real job
Working 12 hours a week (maximum, I ALWAYS had cancelled classes) was fun and everything, but not such a sustainable lifestyle option. So as my assistant contract drew to a close, I sent my CV around not so many places, as I recall, and was lucky enough to net a non-teaching job in Tours.
- I wrapped up my time in Nice with lots of enthusiastic walking around the place, which was generally beautiful and made me feel good and is now making me feel bad because of my general laziness and lack of exercise. Let's hope Pokémon Go takes the place of beautiful landscapes and mild weather of the Côte d'Azur \s
- The rest of 2010 was mostly about settling in to Tours and my new job, and speaking a lot of French (eep!) But I did take a summer trip to Porto, where I sampled a little too much port and sangria and vomited my wall all across town to the bus stop the next day
|Back in the days when I walked places|
- And then in October, I took a trip to Venice, which turned out to be a great time to visit, since there weren't the hordes of tourists which, I am reliably informed, plague the city in the summer, and I got to see the very photogenic acqua alta
2011 - Annus horribilis
2011 was meant to be just about plugging away in the same job and the same flat, making friends, exploring the Loire Valley, and finally having enough money for a proper summer trip. But while my work contract was renewed for a second year, But then, one evening in June I came home to find - long story short - that my flatmate had been stealing my rent money, not paying her rent either, and we were being evicted. So that was fun. Cue stressful and sometimes insane house hunting, eventually having to borrow (or "borrow") a ton of money from my parents to finance a move, and ending up living by myself for the first time ever. Well, only for a few weeks until I got house-invaded by my cute little furry sidekick, that is.
- I made some friends, which was nice. The group of friends I eventually had was definitely one of the highlights of my entire time in Tours, and I still feel a bit sad that a bunch of them have now moved away, even though obviously I did too. But we have a pretty solid schedule of meeting up for the wine festival every year (at least for those of us still in this hemisphere).
- Just after the rent stealing bombshell, I got a much-needed mini-break to Strasbourg to stuff myself with choucroute, flammekueche and spätzle. And admire the incredible cathedral and gorgeous medieval centre, of course. The frescoes in the Saint Pierre le Jeune church were a particular highlight.
|View from the cathedral|
- My first big summer trip (unless you count Italy 2009), two weeks in Ukraine. I blogged about this in exhaustive detail, in case Ukraine is still on anyone's holiday destination list (hmmm, maybe not). I got thorougly lost in Kiev (a couple times, actually. Kiev is not friendly to the un-smartphoned wanderer), visited a lot of saints in a cave, was impressed by Lviv, not so impressed by Odessa (the Potemkin Steps, in particular) and loved the fortress of Khotyn and divided town of Kamyanets-Podilsky. I'm glad I got to go (bummed out about not fitting Crimea in though), it was super cool! Plus now I'm all coupled up, which is great of course, but it's fun to look back at solo wanderings and feel a bit more impressed with myself than I was at the time
|One of the best bits: climbing 91 metres up inside a giant woman|
- I also visited Reims with my sister, where we toured a champagne house, saw a light show at the cathedral, and I had my first dining experience at a Michelin-star restaurant (spoiler: it was good).
|Jess enjoying her Michelin dessert|
2012 - Encore pire
Well, maybe 2012 wasn't worse than 2011, but after having been promised a contract renewal by my old boss, she left and I abruptly got the axe (well, not renewed, technically) by the new boss. By letter. Without ever speaking to me (like, he literally never spoke to me once). So that was bad, and I was pretty depressed and poor (although French chômage is like unbelievably generous), and thus it was for the rest of the year.
- Before this all happened, the Loire froze over, which was really pretty (and cold)
- And then, just a few days later, I visited Barcelona to see the F1 winter testing, where the temperature got up to a balmy 20° or so, and fell in love with the Sagrada Familia
- I was visited by friends, and used my unemployed status and subsequent free entry to things in order to see some of the sights of the region, such as Fontevraud Abbey, Loches, Le Mans, and, a particular favourite, Angers. (Or Gladdens, as I henceforth rebaptise it.)
|Part of the Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers|
- Being a bum also got me free entry to the Louvre, where I saw an amazing manuscript exhibition, very fondly remembered years later, which is not always the case with exhibitions
- *The* highlight of the year had to be our family trip to Norway. We drove from Oslo to Sunndalsora, about halfway up the coast, and then to the incredibly picturesque "Trollstigen" road. It's superlatively photogenic and breathtaking, I can't wait to go back some time.
|Super lucky with the weather, too|
- Then at the end of the year, I turned 30, and managed to celebrate it in three different locations for the big three-oh: at Disneyland Paris (this was free, too), in London, and at home in Tours
- Oh, and I made a whole "comic" about dyeing my hair, which is one of my personal favourite posts, albeit perhaps an unpromising premise
2013 - All change
- Early in the year, I cashed in my meagre air miles for a one-way ticket to Bologna, and also swung by Padua to see some fabulous Giotto frescoes. This is another part of the world I'd really love to go back to and explore further. Tuscany gets all the love (and I want to see more of it, too), but there's such amazing stuff all over Italy, it's been too long since I was last there.
|One of Bologna's many covered passages|
- I went to my second Grand Prix, at Spa. Didn't get the result we were hoping for, but got to enjoy the atmosphere at one of the all-time classic F1 tracks.
- Somehow also fit in a trip to the Amalfi Coast with my parents. It seems to be a super speciality of mine to end up with a hectic travel schedule on the books at the same time as planning and executing major moves. We stayed in Sorrento, visited the coast, Pompeii, Naples, and Capri. Super beautiful, mostly relaxing, great food. We just cracked open a bottle of limoncello I brought back with me, which has been hanging out in my freezer/cupboard ever since, just waiting for some sunshine.
- Lacking any friends in Metz, I soon met up with my Tours friends for a girls' weekend in Dijon. We were treated to dinner and karaoke by a rogue nudist, which makes for quite the story, and also managed to squeeze in a leetle bit of sightseeing, turns out it's quite a nice city. I particularly liked the lavish museum which celebrated the glory days of Bourgogne.
2014 - #ForeverAlone gets a boyfriend and almost immediately abandons him
2014 was another year of changes, but mostly good ones for a change (lame pun intended). The job in Luxembourg I moved for was originally only a three-month contract. I was kind of desperate, so I took the gamble, and did actually get an extension, but in the meantime, news came down the wire that I had been offered another job in Brussels. Complicating matters slightly, I had only been dating the boyfriend for a few weeks at that stage. I had no clue whether he would be amenable to moving to a "medium-distance" setup, but luckily we gave it a go, and it worked pretty well until I successfully lured him to Brussels full-time. And I was so pleased to leave my dank, mouldy, piss-soaked, dark, soulless box of an apartment, not to mention the spirit-sapping daily commute that left me too tired to do anything other than heat up some pasta and flop into bed at the end of the day. Bob the cat was excited to get a new home with amenities such as light and fresh air, too. So much so, he stopped weeing all over the place, #result.
- I started the year in the UK, as a Christmas waif and stray taken in by my friend Liz's family in the Bath area, before heading to London for NYE with other friends.
|Bath Abbey ceiling|
- I met up with Liz again a couple of months later, in
ReimsRouen, where we got drunk, crashed a party and found out what the world's worst hangover food is. And I even saw some of the lovely medieval city (while Liz moped in bed.)
|Saint Maclou, Rouen|
- Before leaving Metz/Luxembourg, I hopped over the border to Trier, Germany, and discovered a gorgeous little church, filled with wonderful stained glass, as well as plenty of Roman ruins in "Germany's oldest city".
- We had our first weekend trip away en couple, to Cologne. This was pre- sex attacks, obviously. Kind of less up there as a romantic destination choice these days.
|One of the unbelievable frescoes in Cologne cathedral|
- I was a busy bee before moving to Brussels, with a lovely trip to Colmar and the rest of the super picturesque Alsace "route de vin", followed by a birthday (not mine) trip to sunny and surprisingly rugged Majorca
- The rest of the year was mostly taken up with settling in to a new country and new job and exploring Belgium and nearby parts. We took a weekend break in northern France with the cutest little (now sadly deceased, sniff) pup, Susi, went to Aachen to celebrate the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne's death (as you do), where I loved the cathedral to bits, and checked out Ghent and Antwerp with my parents.
|RIP Susi :(|
- We had a family (+ Jules) holiday in Madrid in October, which turns out to be a beautiful, cultured and chilled out city. For whatever reasons, I didn't have super high expectations (not low ones, either, but I hadn't really heard much about it), but I loved it. Tons of amazing food, cool architecture, and really world-class art museums (could have skipped the Reina Sofia though).
|Calamari sandwiches to kick off our tapas crawl|
- The year ended with a sprinkling of snow and a visit to Reading Between the Lines, my favourite "unknown" Belgian tourist attraction (this and Vitiloire, I swear I should be getting paid for promoting).
2015 - Hey, that's last year already!
- I headed to Marrakesh with Liz for some winter sun. And that's about the best I can say about Morocco. Okay, there were some nice/interesting sights to see, but not mind-blowing and definitely didn't make up for the constant (mostly) low-grade harassment, sexual and otherwise. It was definitely a different experience though, so I'm glad I did it once, but not in a rush to go back.
|In the Madrasa|
- It was back to Champagne for our first anniversary. This time, we ventured outside Reims and enjoyed a drive to Epernay, via a fondly-remembered champagne and local food tasting sesh at Au 36 in Hautevillers. And we saw a giant boar statue on the way back, which is fondly memorialised chez nous in the form of a fridge magnet.
- Hot on the heels of Champagne, we took an Easter trip to the Lake Constance/Bodensee area of Germany, stopping off at a three Michelin star restaurant on the way. This happened to be on April 2nd, and to be honest, Jules still has not forgiven me for texting him the day before and saying I didn't think I'd be able to take the train down to Luxembourg to meet him because I had an upset stomach. I didn't really think he'd buy it, but I had to quickly reveal the truth just in case he cancelled the reservation! Our trip took in Freiburg, a drive through the Black Forest, and a quick stop at Titisee before winding up at the Bad Hotel in Uberlingen. We saw very old frescoes on the island of Reichenau, and generally enjoyed the region's cute little towns such as Meersburg.
- We did some "local" exploring, visiting Mechelen (I'm now ashamed that we haven't been back) and having a lovely time (and lunch) at the picturesque Bourscheid castle in Luxembourg.
- And then on to the big trip of the year, Albania. This was another one I raved on about at great length. Crazy crumbling communist monuments, death-defying roads, gorgeous beaches, magnificent views, ancient ruins, natural beauty spots, spy planes... It has it all. And for cheap and with few other tourists. I know it's not the first time I say this, but I really recommend it!
- We also popped over the border to Macedonia/FYROM, specifically Ohrid, which is also super cute and reminiscent of (pictures of) the Croatian coast, but without the cruise ships.
- After another trip to the Belgian Grand Prix (Hamilton finally won in my presence!), we headed to South-West France via Burgundy to spend a lot of time traipsing up mountains to look at castles in various states of ruin. We based ourselves in Carcassonne, the least ruined but rather touristy heart of the region and took day trips out to the "Cathar castles" of Montségur, Peyreperteuse (the best one) and Quéribus, as well as seeing the towns of Lagrasse (small, pretty) and Albi (amazing cathedral).
- In October, we took two trips to London and I had a girls' weekend in Bordeaux. Looking back, it was a pretty busy year in travel for me! Lots of eating and drinking on the menu on all occasions.
It's been a crap year for the world so far (let's hope it doesn't get even worse, *cough* Trump *cough*), but a pretty good year for me. I started my new job in January and then, shortly afterwards, absconded for five weeks for my first trip back to New Zealand in more than 6 years. There was a terrorist attack my first week back at work, Britain Brexited, and it seems at the moment we go hardly a day without another horrific attack somewhere.
Highlights so far
- We swung by Bangkok for one night only on the way to NZ and managed to eat some tasty street food, get a massage and visit a temple
- New Zealand gets its own round of highlights (other than catching up with family and friends and delicious nostalgia food). Best bits:
- The thermal wonders of Rotorua
- Since then, I've been lazy as hell on the blogging front. Hopefully coming soon: we visited Berlin, moved house, went to Vitiloire (an annual highlight) and saw the hunting dogs being fed at Chevernay, and just last weekend we were in Utrecht. Otherwise, things are quiet on the travel front since I've had to take on some extra duties at work and Jules is changing jobs. But that means extra travel days saved up for later at least!
Just for fun, here are my most popular posts (not quite of all time, since it reset the statistics some time, when Blogger was taken over by Google, maybe?):
- Becoming an auto-entrepreneur. Read all about how I became self-employed in France and did, like, one job back in 2012. Honestly, there are probably better how-tos out there.
- How to date a Frenchman. This one I like, since people presumably think they are going to get the sort of Cosmo-style insights which I am mocking in this post.
- Flying UK visit. Went to the UK, visited a friend, celebrated my sister's birthday, went to Greenwich. Dunno why this is in the top three.
- Hwæt ræde ic? Ælfric's Colloquy. In which I talk about and translate a little of an Anglo-Saxon manuscript. Kind of like that this one is inexplicably popular. I guess it must be people desperately googling for any help with it. But how many people are even studying this?
- Soirée raclette. As it says in the title, we ate some raclette. I can only put this one down to how much people like cheese.
Thanks to everyone who has read and commented over the years. I've made some lovely friends (virtual and otherwise) and really enjoyed interacting with you and being able to catch people up with what's going on with me. If I had started blogging today, well, first maybe I wouldn't have. I'm a lot more aware of the potential for accumulating information about people and using things like face recognition than I was ten years ago. (But not so much that I didn't make this epic "here's all the details in one handy place" post, of course.) I also know my blog is a bit old-fashioned compared to the slicker, more marketable efforts I see these days, which is reflected in the number of people who read it. I probably write sentences which are too long, make too many jokes which only I think are funny, and go vague on concrete details and long on idiosyncratic observations about the places I visit. But I hope at least it's authentic to my point of view and experience, and if nothing else, it's a pretty cool time capsule for me.