Debunking the myths of thrifty eating

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La fin de la Fin des Haricots… or The End, part 2 (the one with all the sentimental reflection)

So here we are.

I’m sitting in a very empty room – my boxes were shipped on Wednesday, my friends have all gone back to England and I am a lone survivor in Nantes, left to fend for myself for the last couple of days here sans belongings until my flight tomorrow.

Looking at my empty room with a glass of merlot in hand, it seems like an apt moment to reflect a bit on the past year and the things I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met and the changes I’ve observed. I can’t believe 9 months have passed since I arrived, alone and slightly drunk (flight phobia always leads to wine consumption) in Nantes airport, excited to pick up the keys for the beautiful flat that I stumbled across in July 2013. So here’re my closing observations on Nantes, France and University life and  a few personal reflections.

1. I honestly can’t believe how lucky I was to find this place – it has had a few low points – being away from all other English friends who lived in halls, passive aggressive notes from certain flatmates, trawling up 3 flights of French stairs to and from the laundrette, having the tiniest bed in the world… but apart from these few minor annoyances I really couldn’t have found a better apartment if I’d tried. The various nights that have ended up with food/chatting/general antics in my kitchen have generally been the most memorable ones (notable examples include Ben’s visit/doorbell incident, me and liv having a beer with a man who, it emerged, was effectively living in his car, and of course the Christmas party). I never got tired of waking up to thin bars of light peeping around the shutters and then opening them to let the sunlight flood in from floor to ceiling. Stumbling down to one of the boulangeries for a hangover cure Poulet Complet or pre exam pastry was a luxury I started to take for granted… stumbling back from Chien Stupide as well. I got to the point of not wanting to go to the shop because it was too far, and thus having no milk for cereal. Said shop is less than a 3 minute walk away. Such are the perils of city centre living…

It makes it all the more sad that I’m leaving – it’s unlikely I will ever live somewhere as well positioned again. I have a great belief in things turning out for the best, and this apartment has demonstrated to me yet again what can happen if you turn up with two days to spend, no plans, no friends, no knowledge of the city and only a loose idea of what you’re looking for and where to find it. 

2. Having said all this, I have missed the British student experience more than I can explain. I don’t know what it is that we have somehow done to students in British universities, but the “Student life” which exists as a cliche (but a pretty realistic one) just doesn’t exist in France, and to my understanding in other European countries either. There is no sitting around in onesies at 4pm watching Real Housewives with a pot noodle and a cuppa. There is no grubby house shared with your friends in student-ville. There are no societies, no social events, no freshers, no campus life, no subculture and, to be frank, not much in the way of youth culture as a broader concept. The strange mixture of intense and demanding work combined with large expanses of aimless and otherwise totally unacceptable slobbing is one I cannot wait to return to. 

3. In France, university is an extension of school. Everyone (practically) goes, you stay within two hours of your home with most people go to the university of their town and live with their parents throughout their degree. Their friends are the friends they had at school and their courses require a high number of hours spent in a non-interactive classroom. An undergraduate course will set you back around €300 a year, with public universities being funded almost exclusively by the government. As a result, competition isn’t really an issue – you’re not going to be tempted to move 500km away to Lyon by a fancy gym, a shiny union and a new library because what you’re effectively going to get wherever you go is another three years of school, with classrooms, fact memorising, a lot of early starts and not much free time. Free and interesting thinking is not really on the agenda either. A very interesting conversation with a French friend yesterday confirmed my suspicion that what counts at university here is learning facts, dates and writing about them in the longest most detailed way possible. Whether the facts are directly relevant to your work is unimportant. I was shocked at the way no one questions this. She was shocked when I told her that at home I could miss out the publication dates and biographical details of every philosopher in my essay and still get top marks. “But how do you show your knowledge?”. 

4. A year abroad gives you some distance from your own university experience. British youth culture, great as it is, put a huge amount of pressure on students and young people to conform to a certain image. Leeds is not the only offender but I think it’s especially guilty. This year I’ve met a lot of people from all over the place and realised that certain images that you see time and time again are not normal. In fact loads of other people find them bizarre so you start to realise that judging anyone by one standard is just not a viable option. With this in mind I’m excited to return to Britain’s “self styled coolest uni” (scroll to Leeds) and enjoy its great city/student life, but with a self awareness which I hope will make it easier not to feel in some way judged because 1, I don’t and never will like disco pants or Nike airs, 2, I don’t have any desire to starve myself for a thigh gap, 3, I really don’t feel the need to pretend to everyone that I’m x, y or z. 

5. This leads me on to the people I’ve met this year. Without a doubt my friends have been the highlight of the year. Some top moments include drinking in deckchairs at le cantine and pulling some shapes in altercafe in the first week, the beach trip at the end of September, being kicked out of all the halls for being too rowdy, various nights of bizarre and wonderful music in LU, road trip to the south of France in half term, going to Paris in November and eating poulet rôti on the floor of our youth hostel before Arctic Monkeys, Ben’s visit, Christmas antics, rainy Amsterdam, rainy Rome, trip to mont st michel, group meals/drinks (dubrowns, couscous, tapas, casa pepe, moules, gallettes, pastries, tea, amorino’s, chien stupide, le nid, live bar…I could go on), stunning Porto, picnics and lazy days in Nantes’ beautiful parks, the boat trip and not to forget gym tonique, which saved me from many a low day. All of you have made the year so special and brought something different to the group, and I feel so lucky to have met such a diverse and interesting bunch of people with such varied personalities and tastes. 

And with these last reflections, my year abroad has come to a close. My flight is tomorrow at 1.30pm. The oddest thing about the whole experience is to think that once I hand back my keys and get on the tram tomorrow, this chapter of our life is over, and we will go back to our old routines and old friends as if none of it ever happened. All the memories I’ve made and the people I’ve met will obviously still be there but we will never all be together in Nantes having this experience again, and no one else was there to share it. I heard people say before doing a year abroad that when you come back the strangest sensation is readapting to your old life having had such an intense life experience, but I never realised how much perspective 9 months can give you. If ever there was a case of feeling “same, same but different”, this is it.

I’m pausing here for the purposes of self awareness – I have not “found myself” in France nor do I plan to take a gap yah any time soon, but by being an outsider in a more extreme way I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my own culture. France might be next door to the UK Geographically but there are real differences in lifestyle and approach which shouldn’t be underestimated, as demonstrated by the university system, the approach to paperwork, personal interaction etc… 

 Whereas at the start of the year the air seemed to be laden with expectation and excitement, now I feel bittersweet – I do feel like the year has come to a natural close – the expectation and excitement was met, and I’m leaving with a collection of memories that will stay with me, but at the same time I’m sad to say goodbye to this stage of my life which involved so much preparation, worry, stress, excitement, independence and freedom. So this is it – La fin des Haricots. I’m finishing my journey a similar way to how I started it. It’s a warm night and I’m looking out on the balcony and the street below, I’m drinking glass of merlot, my room is bare and my things are crammed back into my case. Once again I don’t know anyone in Nantes, so I feel alone in a foreign city, but I’m happy.

Thanks so much for reading my blog over the last few months, sporadic as it has been! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and that it has inspired someone somewhere to do something or go somewhere new and maybe a bit scary.

I’ll leave you with a song that sums up how I feel and a picture of my road (my apartment is one of the high up ones with a baloncy on the tiny diagonal road)

Lots of love and a final gros bisou, 

Catherine 

xxx

 

 

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Part 1 (the one with all the pictures)

So it’s been a long time since I posted, again. 

A lot of things have happened in the last couple of months since then, but now since in a weeks time I’ll be sitting on boxes waiting for Send My Bag to collect my belongings so I can come home for good, I thought a few little posts to summarise/reflect on the year wouldn’t go amiss.

So firstly a quick run down on what I’ve done since March…

– We had some amazing weather in March and April, which meant plenty of nice trips and events (Mont st Michel in Normandy, La Baule (nearest beach), party for James and Joanna before they left) in between rather a lot of hellish and pointlessly time consuming work (see 25 page dissertation in French which I boshed out in 5 days. Come at me Fourth year)

– Easter sleepover and brunch with leftover Nantes people, including disney marathon and chocolate in abundance.

– Brief trip home to see Mum before jetting back to Nantes via Portugal for a wee holiday

– Lots of nice weather and ice cream

– Boat trip on the Erdre which probably comes near the top of all my days ever. Wine + sun + swimming + friends + boat = joy (and sunstroke)

– Exams which no one really cared about but were a mild inconvenience to all involved.

– Goodbyes to some much loved friends who are and will be much missed! 

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The view from Mont St Michel on the border between North Brittany/Normandy

 

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Stumbled accross this beautiful park in Porto, Portugal, a really photogenic and beautiful city which seems to have suffered a lot as a result of the financial crisis. Alongside the beautiful baroque style buildings sit hundreds of abandoned properties – Portugal’s strict planning restrictions and poor financial situation mean that neither selling them nor restoring them is economically viable, so they are just left, slowly crumbling away…

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View over the Duoro estuary from Foz da Porto (where we stayed in an appartment on the coast) Much sun and general loveliness…

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Ile de versailles in Nantes in the sunshine… perfect day for a boat trip…

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Despite the sunburn/stroke the boat trip just encapsulated everything I’ve loved about this year, sun, good food, great company, good wine, an element of famous five-esque exploration/excitement…. 

To be honest was about as close to a perfect day as it’s possible to get.

I can’t believe that in just over a week I’ll be flying back to the UK. The year has gone by at such speed it’s amazing to think how much we’ve crammed into the short space of time we’ve been here, but I would go as far as to say that this has probably been the best year of my life, despite the absence of certain wonderful friends who I have missed a great deal! If anyone happens to read this who’s having any doubts about doing a year abroad don’t worry and don’t think too hard, if you know it’s what you want, just do it! Everything will work out, you will learn/grow up so much and never look back. 

Thanks for reading and following my experiences a little bit this year – The End part two is on its way when I have a little more time to sort out my thoughts and get them down in a relatively elequent way. I hope you’ll forgive my self indulgence in going over a few of the highlights, memories and lessons from this year…

Love and bisous,

Catherine xxx 

 

“Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures”

The other day I felt a bit down.

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Then on Thursday it was sunny and I went for a run, walked around the town a bit. had a coffee, bought a pastry, sat by the fountain and fell in love with France again, so please excuse me for this self indulgent little post…

It’s half term at the moment and the weather is unseasonably warm – everyone is sitting out on cafe terraces, having a smoke, a coffee, a beer, watching people slowly ambling round town. The man in the fromagerie at the end of my road is chatting to his customers about wine accompaniments, and the studio art galleries opposite my apartment are letting the light flood in through enormous, peeling french windows. A man plays the accordion in a top hat. Cyclists weave in and out of the human traffic. 

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My phone died as I was sitting alone, drinking my coffee – immediate social anxiety started to set in. But looking around there wasn’t a single person looking at a screen – they were engaging with real humans, or just watching the world go by. So I just watched for 20 minutes or so, and thought about what characterises the France that I love. Really it is just that – being able to sit, quietly and alone, watching other people go about their lives without feeling at all rushed or self conscious. Just taking that time makes it so much easier to reconnect with things that are easily ignored – a sunny day, the soothing babble of quiet conversation, a beautiful fountain that you walk past every day, a good coffee, a person smoking a cigarette on their balcony watching the people below, doing the same thing as you. 

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I shared a nice moment of mutual appreciation with an older lady who was also sitting facing the Place with a long finished coffee. She was probably 70 but she might have been 25, silk scarf tied stylishly around the collar of her mac, enormous dark glasses perched low on the bridge of her nose – she looked like someone who knew exactly how to enjoy life, but wasn’t planning to pass on her secrets.

If that’s what living in France does to you even despite the paparasse, I think I’ll be coming back.

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Catherine xxx

“Time is the longest distance between two places”

Bonjour blog fans…

First off I apologise for this ridiculously long blog hibernation – 3 months of lots of work and exams interspersed with many trips and voyages hasn’t left much time or motivation to be proactive.

Things that have happened in the last 3 months:

– Christmas with family, New year in Leeds, generally joyous experiences of being back in Britain (felt like superman able to understand everyone around me on the train…)

– Very minimal revision for exams which happened in January (one notably started at 7.30am, which is something I hope I never have to repeat)

– Post exam sejour to Amsterdam for Clare’s birthday celebrations/general exam recovery

– 4 days back in Nantes and then off again to a very rainy Rome for a weekend of shameless indulgence (pizza…pasta…wine…aperold…chocolate…)

– A hellish three weeks of intense work culminating in a 45 minute presentation about John Stuart Mill to a room full of French people and my unimpressed tutor (“Use your time in France to learn French Grammar Catherine. You can’t just make it up. The point of you being here is that you become bilingual, if you don’t do that you’ve failed” great cheers for that, I only worked for weeks for this, but guess I’ll be off home then…)

– Several great nights at LU (bossonova-funk-house anyone?), an incredible jazz band and some new friends at Dynamo Cafe, wonderfully unexpected accordian music (complete with drunken crowd participation) at Live Bar and an excellent night at Kirsten’s air bnb appartment for her 21st.

– A fair bit of homesickness and the booking of flights home for a couple of days and to Porto in Portugal for Easter.

– A massive protest (40-60k people) taking place on the road outside my house, which, thanks to a group of a thousand or so professional troublemakers, descended into a full scale riot as the evening went on, culminating in tear gas, water canons, fertiliser bombs, fires, large scale destruction of the centre of  Nantes and a sadly tainted protest which should have been peacefully promoting a fair cause. After getting caught in the tear gas and mildly choking before realising what was going on, I heard the explosions start and decided not to stay in my appartment that night…

Overall I’d say these last few months have been characterised by a touch of ennui. I love Nantes, I love my friends, I love cheap wine and great bars and live music and long weekends. But I also love England. I love sympathetic professors and interesting lectures, powerpoint presentations and word limits, affordable gym memberships, pubs, ale that doesn’t cost 7 euros a pint, student houses, takeaways, being able to visit my friends elsewhere…

It’s not that I’m not enjoying myself, it’s more just that things have become a little flat considering the excitement before Christmas. Suddenly uni feels like an wasteland of time to pass until the weekend, but yet the weekends consist of lie ins and the putting off of chores that seem very non-urgent but are actually fairly important. The novelty of living in France has worn off, which makes daily cultural annoyances more grating. On the plus side, this has made me so excited for the next year of life back in Leeds, which will bring so many of the little things I miss in France.

With this and the knowledge that, amazingly, I only have 3 months left in this beautiful city, in mind, I’ve compiled a little list of perspectives that my year abroad has changed in me so far, for better and for worse:

1. We live in EUROPE.  That means you can be in any other city in under 3 hours. Pretty much. Being that little bit more central and a bit more carefree has helped me make the most of this, but it’s certainly something I’ll take home with me. Weekend in Oslo? Sure, that pair of shoes can wait.

2. Wanderlust. See above. The more you indulge it the worse it gets. Booking spontaneous holidays becomes so normal you find it hard to cope if you’re not looking forward to discovering somewhere new in the next month.

3. You take it for granted that 1.71e in France will get you a bottle of Leaderprice’s finest and genuinely very enjoyable red. Thus  good wine becomes a staple of your cooking routine, evening meal,  bath time, socialising, film watching…. You struggle to come to terms with the prospect of returning to Blossom Hill.

4. Classic clothing which fits you and your personality will make you instantly chic. Disco pants might be great right now but you’re going to regret that shit in 5 years time, especially if you’re actually a trench coat and brogues fan. I wish England would learn this.

5. On the other hand, France is a great place to come if you want to be glared at by locals for wearing anything OTHER than a trench coat and brogues. The fact that we embrace the alternative and the orignal is the reason I will continue to love Britain’s pop culture, and tolerate its often inadvisable penchant for trend following.

6. Once you’ve tried doing so in a foreign language for a year, you realise making a good impression on people is the easiest thing in the world when they speak the same language as you – you instantly have something in common, so why worry.

7. Ditto for ANY mildly worrying activity. You’ve done it in France, doing it in England is a peace of piss, particularly when official people actually WANT to help you as they do so much more often in the UK.

8. Feeling homesick isn’t about being away from your native country. It’s about not accepting and not feeling accepted.

9. Apathy towards issues in society is a shame. Thoughtless violence and hostility isn’t any better. Neither Britain nor France have quite worked out the happy medium on that.

10. France has got it right about culture. It is not for the liberal intelligentsia. All of it is for everyone. See the manifesto of Le LU.

11. Living abroad gives you a different understanding of your own culture (e.g. I had never understood the British stereotype of coldness and reserve until I found myself on multiple occasions making excuses to get out of being sociable with internationals in order to run away and eat lunch alone to avoid the stress of cross-cultural friendmaking. I’m still working on that!)

12. The UK student experience is unlike that in many other European countries. It gives you independence and freedom from living in your own city/with your parents. It trusts you to get on with your degree on your own terms. It gives you incredible student resources and oportunities to participate outside the academic world. It celebrates originality and creativity. It cares about your wellfare (trust me. Come to uni in Europe if you don’t believe me and see the difference). It is great.

So there are my 12 observations from the year so far. I’m sure there will be more by the end of the year. I feel confident in the coming months as the weather gets nicer and the evenings lighter that our last few months here will spur us all on to a last minute whirl of sociability and most-making, but in the mean time I’m taking each day as it comes and trying to enjoy the little things that I really do love about life here.

A la prochaine fois, amis, I’ll leave you with some photos of our recent antics

Bisous, Catherine 🙂 xxx

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Rome in the rain…

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Evening in at our appartment… few too many aperols anyone?

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Trevi fountain, Rome

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View from St Peter’s

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Feast chez nous in Rome

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Photos from the riots in Nantes. The first three are mine, showing the peaceful march which started at 1pm on my road, the weird ‘priest’ guy that started a farcical sermon after the ZAD people smashed and looted the Vinci shop, and the clouds of tear gas where the violent protest was happening a bit later on. The last photo is from the Telegraph and shows what it descended into by about 5pm. You can read the whole story here and watch a great video of it all here.

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In lighter news, this fun drunken French man aquired mystery drum to join in with and dance to the accordian band at live bar the other night, while some others did some nice folk dancing to complement it, much to our amusement… Just another standard night in Nantes.

“Home is not where you live but where they understand you”

Salut à tout le monde 🙂

So I’m writing this from my seat on the 17.13 from Paris Gare du Nord to London St Pancras International, feeling simultaneously overjoyed and slightly nostalgic to be returning to my home country. I haven’t stopped going on about how I can’t wait to hear the Tube lady announce Walthamstow Central as the terminus of the Victoria Line. I’ve been having dreams overrun with post boxes and black cabs, and fantasising about Christmas cake and mince pies and hobnobs and quality street and the list goes on and on…
This initially made me think what strange things one misses about one’s home country, but mulling it over on this very long train journey I think what I actually miss most, and am most excited to return to, is just walking into a place and feeling that you totally belong there – everyone else shares your language, your culture and everything you’ve grown up with, and as a result you are automatically included. The things I’ve mentioned above aren’t things that I miss in themselves, they are just symbols which signify that feeling. Although I do love mince pies.

Enough self indulgence for one post, here’s a bit about some things we did in the last few weeks of term…

So after returning from a lovely weekend in Paris with Fi and Ben, I had a couple of nights in my own bed before running off again to Strasbourg (aka the self-professed Capital of Christmas) on an Erasmus association coach trip.
As glamorous as that sounds (!) you may be surprised to hear that it actually comprised a 12 hour overnight bus journey with a load of other weird foreigners. “12 hours overnight?” I hear you say, “that’s fine! You’ll be asleep for 8!”. Will I? To those who have never slept on a bus before, I would liken the experience to falling asleep in a cage while someone prods you every 20 minutes and forces you to adopt a new, untried position. I have actually done this before (17 hours for the Orchestra tour to Freiburg in 2010 for those who are interested) but the difference this time was that leaving at 9pm and arriving at 9am means that rather than crashing at hotel Bad on arrival, you instead have to just get on with life. Not ideal, especially when your hostel’s location means a 20 minute walk before you even get to the end of the tram line. Safe to say the day was spent not really appreciating being in Strasbourg, for all it’s pretty lights and nice markets. However, after a night of unlimited Flamkuchen and rather more limited sleep in the hostel we felt relatively refreshed and made the most of the day by eating all the tasters at the biscuit market (no of course we didn’t buy any…) and playing daytime drinking games at a new favourite pub.
Reluctantly we then boarded the bus encore une fois to repeat the joyous experience. Thankfully this time me and James managed to hijack the best bus seats (you know the ones, half way down, just behind the emergency exit so no seat in front, bar which you can put your feet on and fall asleep until all the blood drains to your thighs and you can’t feel your toes or bum and have to change position) so a slight improvement was made on the sleep front. The return was actually not too bad in fairness since we arrived at 6.30am and I don’t have uni till 2 on Mondays so I just got in and crashed till 1. Thirty. Well it was really 2. At least I made the 3pm though…

Tuesday saw me and liv spending a great deal of time purchasing stupid Christmas foodie items in Leclerc. I really can’t think of a better way of passing a Tuesday evening, especially when it’s in preparation for your Erasmus Christmas Party. It’s fair to say I got a bit carried away (why shouldn’t a student party include smoked salmon, bubbly and a cheese board, among other joys?) but it definitely made a lovely evening with new friends (which they still are I suppose although it feels like we’ve known each other far longer than a few months) even better. I’m not sure how my housemates felt about watching a large group of seemingly civilised British (plus 1 German, 1 Canadian) twenty-somethings swiftly degenerate into a rowdy bunch of all singing, all dancing, food fighting (Rose and Chris I know you know you were the main culprits for this) emotional wrecks, but they seemed to be ok about it in the morning!? And at least we washed up post beverages. Cheers guys – somehow it seems to take a lot less time when about 15 people share the task after a lot of wine? Didn’t clean the floor though. I was still finding haribo yesterday… But that’s besides the point.
Aside from providing a large number of top quality profile picture updates (credit to Joanna) the whole evening made me firstly even more grateful for finding such a fun and insane group of people with whom to pass the remainder of the year, and b, very happy to be returning to do more of the same with everyone back at home.

The rest of the last week passed pretty uneventfully, everyone bar the lawyers and I left at the weekend or before, so the burden of revising (or not-revising) for my 4 hr exam on Existentialism was left for me to bear solo. Thankfully the exam happened (I’m not going to say how it went since that would imply I had a clue) and is now over, and it wasn’t too horrendous an experience. So with that, a quick dash to the supermarket to stock up on wine and a last minute catch up with a French friend over a financier, the semester was over.

So far before getting home I accidentally cancelled and had to rebuy my SNCF ticket to Paris (for substantially more…), got my suitcase stuck in the Paris metro gates, got asked to help a drug addict escape a gang in Camden (don’t even ask) and left my purse in the Eurostar terminus, dramatically announcing a vol (theft) to the officials before someone found it on my seat. I also bought a Waitrose flapjack and a tea on the Eurostar and it was great.

***update*** after successfully meeting my Dad, having a nice meal out and getting across London in time for my train, I got to Paddington to the news that everything bar one severely delayed stopping service was cancelled. Why? A crane fell on the main line. Ideal. I then boarded the train, with the rest of the population of the Home Counties plus my enormous case in tow. The train took 2 hours to get to reading (a 25 minute journey) at which point I was turfed off (11pm) and told to wait for the next stopping service. Thankfully, as a nice end of the hellish transport day, I asked if it stopped at Radley and was told no, (why did you make me get off the first one) but as a special treat they would put in a stopping order just for me. Aww. Cheers first great western, you’re actually shit, but you wheedled it back by making me feel oh so special. *****

As I went through customs I also became aware of the many many awkward “bonj-oh, umm-hello” situations which are going to arise in the next few weeks. As much as I usually dislike the formulaic way French people shop and greet one another, it seems that once acquired the habit is significantly harder to break than you’d expect. Also I’m going to miss baguettes. And croissants. And I don’t want to consider the coffee situation until it arises.

So as I swiftly replace these slightly sad thoughts with sunny, joy-filled visions of Terry’s chocolate orange, the Doctor Who Christmas special and skating at Summerset House, I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your day in peace. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my life in France for the last four months as much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing it, and I will see you in January!

Joyeux Noël et à plus!
Catherine Xxx

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Pluie, pints and the Pomidou – a erasmus family a Paris, among other tales

So as promised here is the next installment of antics which have been occurring since the start of November…

Some while back a casual drink led myself, Rose, Iain and Andy to buy tickets to Arctic Monkeys at the Zenith in Paris. This was one of the better impulse purchases I’ve ever made, and the date crept up surprisingly quickly. Having booked our hostel (Le Regent Montmatre, which I have stayed in several times and would recommend if anyone’s looking) and our trains a few weeks prior, we all passed up the day’s uni to board our TGV at 11.50am. I apologise for making everyone sweat a bit as I cheerily waved hello from the ticket machine at 11.43am. Punctuality, as those who know me will attest, is not a strong point of mine.

Still, with plenty of seconds to spare we boarded the train and began our journey to the city of love, romance and all other clichés. After a typically Parisian encounter with a small, mumbling, drunk tramp on the metro (“woah now, who’s bag is that you’re slowly picking up while learing at my face little man? Would that be mine? I’m gonna have to stop you there…”) we arrived around 4 at the hostel, ditched our bags, made up our beds and went for a quick wander up the Sacré Coeur. We managed to escape the stairs up to the cathédrale without having worthless pieces of string tied to us by desperate salesmen (Paris wins the prize for most offensive and invasive tourist venders) and had a quick walk around. Rose and myself managed to feature in many frames of some documentary which appeared to feature a famous dwarf (this we know because after following her around the church we saw her on a poster advertising some show the next day), so look out for that hitting a French TV near you.

Quickly however, a caffeine lull set in, and we took a much needed detour via a typical (-ly expensive) cafe in the heart of Montmartre. Espressos later we were rejuvinated enough to search for dinner – which took the form of takeaway chicken and potatoes from Carrefour (classy folk that we are) and special brew (tramp) lager (which we paid 2.50 a can for, and later saw for 80c… #studentproblems)

I can honestly say that in terms of cost/enjoyment ratio, it was probably one of the better meals I’ve had while in France. It also provided an appropriate level of energy for us to brave the drizzle and cold in order to get to the Zenith. Compared to an English arena gig the entry process was blissfully easy – we arrived just after 8, queued for 15 minutes, got a couple of pints in and walked directly into the pit. I’m actually a little annoyed we didn’t arrive for their entrance since The Strypes were probably amongst the best support acts I’ve seen. Though I’m normally fairly religious about bothering to turn up to warm ups it’s normally just a thing of principle – they can be pretty underwhelming – so it was a massively pleasant surprise to see even a French crowd getting pretty into it from the start. To be fair they have something of that quality shared by 60s bands in old TOTP clips which sees people involuntarily/awkwardly bopping around whether they intend to or not. Take a quick listen if you fancy… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTY-hWyVgZg

After they finished their set I’d managed to duck and weave my way almost to the front. This is a skill I have honed over the years and one I take pride in. I also see nothing wrong with it. If someone moves and a space becomes available, it is my right, as a short person, to fill that space. I rarely obstruct people, since there are few people shorter than myself. We had also made some nice friends who had come all the way from Scotland (!!) for the gig, and it was all very pleasant. Imagine the rage then, when I felt the grip of a burly bouncer on my shoulder, who promptly removed Iain and myself from our proudly earned positions and told us that pushing is not allowed (I’m sorry WHAT) and that we had to go to the back. After some futile arguing we gave in, not wanting to see if being thrown out of the gig was an empty threat, got another pint and rejoined the crowd.

In the end though it all worked out find, since obviously we managed to relocate ourselves gradually nearly as far forward as before, picking up Rose and Andy on the way. The gig was incredible, and the atmosphere surprisingly good considering the vast majority of people had no idea what any of the words meant. Emerging from the mosh, bruised, battered, sweaty but happy, we retreated to the station get the metro home, where we were greeted by the beautiful sound of around 100 French people joining in with a busker for a last rendition of Mardy bum. It was a magical moment, despite the pronunciation issues.

Image

SO that was the main purpose of our trip to Paris, however we thought we may as well spin out the weekend with some more French capital based antics, so we had booked to stay Thursday and Friday night in the hostel, and then took advantage of my wonderful friend Ben’s appartment for the last night of our stay. Friday took in some standard sights, mainly for Rose’s benefit, so we took a riverside walk from Centre Pompidou down via Notre Dame, a fantastic bookshop called Shakespeare and Company which everyone should visit in their lives for its totally magical atmosphere (you can read a fairytale book from 1917, then write a love letter on a typewriter and stick it with chewing gum to the inside of a little wooden booth, while listening to a random person play Debussy on the resident piano… if you want) up to the Musee D’orsay, finally crossing the Pont des Arts (nicknamed pont d’amour because of around 40,000 love locks which are attached to every single inch of it) to the Louvre. We joined Ben for a drink at his, which resulted in much hilarity (after we had got over the RIDICULOUS views from the 7th floor DREAM of an appartment of every single bloody site in Paris) and returned to the hostel to get some sleep.

ImageErasmus family on the pont des arts – shameless tourism…

ImageOh what’s that, looks familiar?

The next day passed in a slight daze of visiting various sights in the rain and deciding that the queue wasn’t worth bothering with, and having a coffee/hot chocolate/glass of wine instead.

**cultural aside**: With paris’ help, I have really learnt to apprciate the value of a 5pm drink. When you’re experiencing a mid sight-seeing lull you might expect it would tip you over the edge into a sleepy abyss but no no, the French are counterintuitively right yet again (see the best way of cooking steak). A glass of bordeaux as an apéro is the perfect way to perk up your evening. I don’t know why every other nation seems to frown on afternoon drinking, as it’s clearly a winner? Apparently (thanks Ben for this tidbit) as wine consumption has decreased in France (as a result of government health campaigns to reduce consumption), levels of depression have gone up accordingly. So there you go, it is clear, wine prevents mental illness. FACT.

We joined some of Rose’s friends for the evening and headed back to Ben’s for a great night’s sleep in the appartment of dreams. I have never felt so French as when standing out on the balcony in the pouring rain with a glass of wine and an umbrella, looking at the Tour Eiffell shining its searchlights out over the thousands of angular roofs below.

After some superb breakfast items supplied by our wonderful host, we headed off back to montparnasse to get the train back to Nantes. Returning to uni on the Tuesday (Monday was Armistice day) was a bit of a downer for us all… one which lasted into the next week really. Having had a couple of packed weekends it seemed somewhat flat to be back in Nantes for a good couple of weeks, despite only having two real days of uni till another day off. Thursday rarely counts…especially when you’re up till 6am Wednesday night with some strangers cooking crêpes in your living room. But that’s another story…

A tout a l’heure mes amis, thanks for reading and see you all soon 🙂

Catherine xxx

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

Salut everyone,

apologies for the large hiatus in blog activity – the last few weeks have been frantic with a lot of working and quite a lot more playing. I had written a nice long post depicting my latest exploits, however it got deleted without saving (ARGH) so it’s taken me some time to muster the effort to rewrite it. But, finally, here we are, please find for your delectation a lengthy post full of tales and pictures from half term…

More posts to follow documenting our trip to Paris and other things since then 🙂

So after the last week of last half term, which was rather mundane and doesn’t warrant writing about, we had the Toussaint holidays (i.e. holidays for all saints day, the day after Halloween, which is a bank holiday in France). While quite a few erasmus folk decided to go home for the week, the remaining girls had organised a road trip since Natascha brought her car with her from Germany. The plan was to start off in La Rochelle, snaking our way down the west coast via Bordeaux and Hossegor before crossing the width of southern France to reach Montpellier via Carcassone.

We started the journey with good intentions at 7am from Nantes, in order to be on the motorway by 8am. Surprised by our efficiency, the SatNav refused to believe we were actually at La Rochelle around half past nine (we’d aimed to get there for lunch…), and instead carried on driving us along the autoroute. Without sufficient caffeine or sleep I happily followed our blue dot travel along 70km south of La Rochelle before finally twigging that this potentially was not just a scenic route. By the time we realised this, the executive decision was made to abandon La Rochelle and instead go straight to Bordeaux with a brief stop at St Emilion. In hindsight this was probably a much better bet in any case. Famous for its wine, the tiny cobbled streets of St Emilion wind their way up and down, the views of surrounding vinyards framed by hanging plants and ancient archways, painting the perfect picture of southern France, just as you’d imagine it. We had a coffee in beautiful courtyard cafe which would have been absolutely perfect in Summer, but was still lovely even if slightly chilly in late October, before moving on to some degustation at one of the many wine shops. After being swayed into buying copious wine by the lovely man in the shop, we trundled back to the car slightly happier than we left it.

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A 25 minute drive took us into the centre of Bordeaux to settle into our hotel. Since none of us were looking to splash much cash on the trip, we opted for a hotel with 99% 1 star reviews on Tripadvisor. It was 20 quid a night and beggars can’t be choosers. While I’m not quite sure it deserved the damning review one customer gave (“This is not a hotel…this is a place where patrons bring their escorts for the night”), luxury it was not. Still, it wasn’t really important since we are poor and 20 and resilient. Even if the beds were lacking numerous slats and we had to drive along a tram line at our peril to get to the carpark.

Regardless of the hotel situation, we spent a lovely evening strolling around the centre of Bordeaux, which is by all accounts a really really nice city. It reminded me a little of Oxford with the cobbled narrow streets and cycling students… after perusing a couple of nice vintage shops and wandering down to the fountain and opera house, we settled into a really nice and pas cher restaurant (cheers lonely planet) and had a glorious three course dinner. Steak frites followed by apple tart = ideal autumn food.

2013-10-30 18.28.44   2013-10-30 18.40.45  2013-10-30 16.10.43

 

I also found the most intriguing vintage electronics and vinyl shop which I could have spent hours in if only time had allowed…

Thursday’s drive required an early start, which proved tricky for me, particularly sans café. Until this trip I assumed all people had the same approach to mornings as me (i.e. they shouldn’t begin before ten, and even so not without the addition of enough caffeine to cause mild palpitations) but apparently this is not so. My spritely friends hopped out of bed joyfully at half 7 while I languished a while in self pity. Some time later however (around about the time we got to a service station serving coffee) I came out the other side and began to enjoy the sunny drive down the southern atlantic coast. We were driving to Hossegor, a beach famed for its surf culture. While I wasn’t initially enthused by this, the sounds of the 5M high waves crashing onto the beach combined with 20 degree heat and some not so unnattractive surfers made the trip most definitely worthwhile. I only wish my camera hadn’t died before I had time to take some pictures.

Sadly we had to get off towards Carcassonne by 2pm as it was a 4 hour drive past Toulouse, and we didn’t want to arrive too late. The drive was a scenic one with the sun setting over the Pyrenees to our south. Being halloween it wouldn’t have been complete without a quick blast of Thriller and some country lane/rogue combine havester related fear…  We eventually arrived at our hostel (which aptly enough was an old castle) to the chiming of a creepy looking bell, unpacked and headed into Carcasonne in the dark to sample the local dish. While the initial plan was to drink wine and have some halloween related japes, the early morning combined with the Cassoulet proved too much and we retired to bed by 11pm.

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After a quick stroll around the ancient walled city, we headed off on our final leg of the journey to Montpellier. Arriving relatively early we had an enjoyable explore of the centre (while wearing T-shirts, yes, T SHIRTS, in November) before heading out for the night. It’s interesting to note the cultural differences between the south west and south east – while Bordeaux feels very much the typical French city, Montpellier has a much more Mediterranean vibe, and it’s narrow paved streets seem almost north african, with little Boutiques branching off flights of stairs. While there aren’t many tourist attractions to see there, the jardin past the Arch de Triomphe (copied from Paris) is a beautiful space, and watching the sun set over the fountain was a perfect way to end our second and last evening in Montpellier.

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After a quick stop off at Palavas beach (just to prove we actually crossed the whole width of France) we embarked on the mammoth journey home… 800km of driving in a day really makes you realise how big France actually is, particularly as we still only covered half the country. We arrived home somewhat exhausted but happy to be back, despite the noticable climatic difference (wind and rain… bienvenue au nord) around half 7.

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Voila, a much belated but fairly comprehensive account of our half term exploits – more to come on what has been occurring in the meantime and desolee encore une fois for the massive delay!

A plus,

Catherine xxx

 

 

In the wee wee hours…

Salut tout le monde…

First of all an apology for the lack of post last week – to be frank the main reason for not writing was a lack of exciting occurrences, but after a fortnight I feel obliged to vous mettre a jour on what is going on in Nantes. Plus this week provided some at least minorly interesting experiences to pass on…

Paparasse update:

– ERASMUS GRANT IS ON ITS WAY – 29th of October cannot come quickly enough…

– I handed in my choices form (a few days en retard… but apparently this is unimportant) so I finally (just in time for half term) have a fully complete timetable, the classes for which I have been to at least once each. Yes. Now just need to work on going to them on a regular basis.

Aside from this, other uni news includes giving up on IRFFLE evening classes because they are officially the world’s biggest waste of time (even if I could earn uni credits for doing them, spending 4 hours a week with a masters student teaching me and 40 other miscellaneous foreigners how to conjugate the conditional for the 200th time is just not my cup of tea) and signing up for a trip to Strasbourg in December. My Erasmus spirit took over and I just couldn’t resist spending 2 nights out of 3 on a coach.

Beyond uni, the erasmus social scene continues much in the same vein, I might even say it gained momentum this weekend. This is sadly despite my half arsed proclamations last Thursday that I was over drinking and wanted to pursue some cultural activities (“I’m so fed up of just going out all weekend, I feel like I’m wasting my life”).  Thursday night escalated quickly from ‘early evening drinks’ at le P’tit Zinc (yes, that’s right, of ‘ti punch fame) to slightly later drinks at Le Live Bar, where we made friends with the barman, to later still drinks at LU where we found a carpet to sit on which was great although it has now mysteriously disappeared. After being chucked out at closing and seeing the casternaughts off home all bar Jack and Iain, we decided the night was not over. In search of a late night pint we tried unsuccessfully to go Au Chien Stupide, which was closed, but found instead some slightly worse for wear French people who insisted we accompany them to some bar. While Jeremy seemed keen his friends were slightly less enthousiastic and greeted us largely through the medium of grunting. They took us to some slightly illegitimate looking club underneath a pizzeria, but to be fair the door-lady was great and the female DJ was playing a nice bit of rock n roll on vinyl (so I’ll forgive the Tom Jones moment). Plus she had some top class victory rolls.  After the music ended we left Jack to spend the rest of his evening with the random French people and headed off around about 5am, though not before being invited to a raclette with our new friends (this never came to fruition, which was both a relief and a shame).

Needless to say Friday was a less than productive day… but I did cook an omelette fit for a king and go to gym tonic (wasn’t on great form for that) so didn’t feel like a total failure. Saturday saw the impulse visit of my wonderful ami Ben from Paris, where he’s doing his year out teaching in a school. We had a nice afternoon doing a wee bit of site seeing (in the loosest of senses) and going out for a classic Breton meal (gallette and cider followed by salted caramel crepe… obvs). Of course, having a friend around is a great excuse for some… CASUAL DRINKS…. needless to say we went to LU, wonderful friends joined us, tequila happened and the rest is history. Generally a hilarious night (#injokes) and bed at 6am yet again put a stop to any Sunday productivity. Still couldn’t really go far wrong with a rainy trip to the HAB Gallerie followed by Casa Pépé pizza à emporter, eaten shamelessly in bed in front of 10 things I hate about you…

This week has been great. I don’t like to go on about my life (Ok that’s a lie, I’m writing a blog) but in this case I just want to express how grateful I am to be here in Nantes with a group of wonderful and lovely people, having the time of my life. It’s times like this that make me annoyed that people want the UK to leave the EU (see Nick Clegg’s Speech about this here – I’m not a very political person but the EU is one issue that I think actually matters!) since no where else in the world do people have an opportunity to study abroad in such a relatively easy and financially accessible way.

So that little rant aside, here are the things we liked about France this week:

– being befriended by randoms

– my new found desire to never end the night out (this is also something I dislike… but it is a love/hate situation)

– Grimbergen and Ambrée du Bouffay – proper beer for once

– Casa Pépé à emporter

– Brunch, continental style

– Dates from Marché de Talensac (food of angels!? How does nature create such things by growing them on trees…)

– Old friends

– Being cultured and hungover simultaneously

– 21 degree days when it’s nearly November

– When people ring the doorbell instead of turning on the stair light at 6am – “don’t forget the bell looks like a light and the light looks like a bell, guys” … **DINGDONG** …

Things we didn’t like about France this week:

– The money leaking from every pore in my body

– Talensac market of temptation (the dates are the food of angels… but they cost 7 euros, which isn’t ok by any stretch of the imagination)

– The price of beer (5 euros for a pint is standard. We paid 7 last week. And they don’t even fill the glass all the way up)

– Not having a personal secretary to do my caf for me (PLEASE DON’T MENTION CAF)

– The apparent fruit fly infestation which has begun in my flat. Vom.

So there you go, and here are some photos just so you can stalk my life a little bit more…

Ben made some new friends, while I retreated to avoid them enthusiastically chewing up my leather jacket

Ben made some new friends, while I retreated to avoid them enthusiastically chewing up my leather jacket

Brunch at 2. Yes.

Brunch at 2. Yes.

Arty shot of the sun setting through the rings which run alongside the Loire Estuary at the Hangar a Bananes

Arty shot of the sun setting through the rings which run alongside the Loire Estuary at the Hangar a Bananes

Modern art, innit. (This was not my favourite)

Modern art, innit. (This was not my favourite)

One I prefered...

One I prefered…

And so my friends it’s A bientôt for another week.,  which will bring us to the Vacances de Toussaint which marks the half way point in the term (oh. my. God. How.)

Grands bisous et à toute à l’heure!
Catherine

It’s not real money if…

Bonjour a tout le monde…

So it’s October now (what how why when?!) and Nantes is slowly settling into Autumn. The hungover beach trips are gradually being replaced by film days, but we have yet to be forced to sit inside a bar. This week a few final loose ends were tied up (ok, except CAF, but let’s not talk about that) – I finally have my very own Carte Bleu (which is a charming green/blue colour and makes you feel really french when paying for things) and thus can finally pay my rent.

In addition I posted my learning agreement off to Leeds and with a little bit of luck and magic I might at some point receive an Erasmus grant.

After checking my bank balance I decided all monetary hope was lost for the moment, and all prior money cares dispersed. This allowed for the purchase of some beautiful creations which are most definitely investment pieces and therefore practically free if you think in terms of cost per wear… however, in addition to frequent spontaneous meals out (see pizza at La Casa Pépé) and even more frequent soirées and drinks, there is a dull throb at the back of my head which reminds me that the erasmus grant/caf situation is really quite urgent now.

University took a bit of a hit this week as erasmus based exhaustion made it impossible to make those 10 ams… Sleeping was certainly the more beneficial option. This week I vow to get back on track after receiving my first ‘contrôle continue’ – half a page of philosophical text with the words “expliquez ce texte”, a word limit of 8 pages and no other guidance (!!).

This weekend however has not succeeded in working towards the aim of rest and recovery… Thursday night saw some casual drinks (ALWAYS the start of trouble) escalating into a 6am jam session with a bunch of wandering minstrels (allow for some artistic licence here). I’m trying not to think too hard about where that saxophone might have been. Friday passed in a blur of brioche, boursin and blobbing.

Saturday was Joanna’s birthday so we began celebrations at Berlioz, before they were shut down in dramatic and terrifying style by the key wielding prison guard who burst into the kitchen at 9.45pm (we hadn’t even cut the cake). Not dispirited after our swift exit from the premises, we cheerfully boarded a tram with our beer and wine supplies in tow (I really am sorry, France) and continued to drink in the castle grounds until it was a socially acceptable time to head over to the LU. From this point on a lot of people’s memories probably faded very quickly, but we managed to still talk a good bit of French with my housemates who had come separately and with Aurore, who brought along an extremely excitable 17 year old exchange student from Finland (“I’ve never been to a bar before!!!”). We even finished off the night with a home made 5am crepe with no burns or flipping fails. All in all a great British birthday experience for Joanna, but maybe less so for the French public…

Some language points, things that clicked this week included suddenly realising that vas-y and Allez-y are used for informal/formal situations respectively (don’t ask me why i didn’t notice this some years ago) and trying to tone my excessive usage of new found words like ‘pôtes’ (mates) and such like after some French people laughed at me trying to sound trendy.

So all said and done, voici les choses en France qui nous ont plaisi cette semaine:

– having a bit of French chic to call my own

– galettes

– Marché de Talensac

– surreal nights and lazy days

– getting my bank card without any problems (I’m sorry what?)

– drinking wine in a tree

– seeing the housemates outside of the house

– making it to my Thème class

– Turning up to my philosophy of religion class to find it cancelled

Des choses en France qui ne nous ont pas plaisi cette semaine:

– prison guard service in halls (sorry but how is drinking wine and eating cake worthy of calling the police? Do they not have better things to deal with?)

– very very little sleep this weekend

– ‘ti punch – cute name, created by the devil to burn your insides

– being set an 8 page essay on nothing in particular

– Slightly Autumnal nights (still only gets dark at 8 though which isn’t bad)

– having pas d’argent but finding Zara irresistible… Curse/bless you overdraft?!!

Here are some photos to Illustrate my week…

Galette win

Galette win

French people queue for their Pain Quotidien in Marché de Talensac

French people queue the length of the market for their Pain Quotidien in Marché de Talensac

Mushrooms anyone?

Mushrooms anyone?

CHEESE

CHEESE

Jacket of glory

Jacket of glory

Other jacket of glory...

Other jacket of glory…

Beer keg on the tram... Not okBeer keg on the tram… Not ok

Drinking in a tree...

Drinking in a tree…

Beautifu view of the Bouffay, just around the corner from my appartment

Beautifu view of the Bouffay, just around the corner from my appartment
'Ti punch... not as cute as it sounds. Might as well buy paint stripper.

‘Ti punch… not as cute as it sounds. Might as well buy paint stripper.

Pizza of dreams - again, just around the corner from my appartment

Pizza of dreams – again, just around the corner from my appartment

Donc voila 🙂 not too much has gone wrong this week, though I am feeling the aftermath of this weekend significantly now… Coffee is the answer. On that note… I leave you a song which I feel is applicable to my recent purchases… (and which reminds me of Ashwood… love and miss you guys so much!)

Bonne semaine et a plus 🙂

Catherine xxx