Archive | November, 2012

Things I Miss

29 Nov

OTT English Christmas

Sure the shops start putting displays up in October and Christmas ads come not long after that, but it’s the little things like the Starbucks Christmas menu (yes yes slave to consumerism etc. etc.), Sainsbury’s Christmas sandwiches, and the John Lewis ad which make November/December that bit more fun when usually you have a tonne of deadlines.

Food variety

I’m a massive lover of curry, but here even the biggest hypermarchés seem to have very little in the way of ingredients. I ended up forking out a fiver for the one type of Patak’s imported curry paste they have to offer at Auchan as a special treat. The same problem applies to Thai, Chinese, Mexican…basically anything that isn’t French.

The countryside

My parents will be shocked to hear this, given that I tend to show disgust at the idea of going for a walk, but I actually miss things like fields and trees and the like,  since it’s not as easy to find a nice bit of park or woodland here (apart from Jardin Public).

Home/uni friends/family

This is probably the most difficult one to deal with, especially when I get texts from friends at 3am saying how much of a great night they’re having and how they miss me. I’ve also missed out on the milestones of my brother turning 18 and passing his driving test while I’ve been away 😦 Thank god for Skype!

Comfort

As I may have mentioned, my apartment seems to have been designed with comfort as the last thing in mind. There are no sofas, my bed is up a ladder so I can’t just collapse somewhere after a long day, and even if I sit on my makeshift ‘floorfa’ (floor-sofa, made of 2 blankets and a pillow on the floor, sounds bleaker than it is) the walls are stippled which makes leaning on them pretty damn uncomfortable. I dream of cushions and quilting.

Primark

The closest thing to Primark-priced clothing can be found at the big supermarkets here, but they tend to be unfashionable and outdated, meaning if you need some cheap but nice socks you have to go to places like H&M, where you actually have to think about whether you can afford them before paying.

Bacon

THERE IS NO BACON HERE.

A good night’s sleep

Unfortunately a combo of many little things revolving around my living situation has meant that I haven’t woken up feeling well-rested since I spent half-term in England.

My bed squeaks whenever I roll over, which wakes me up in the middle of the night.

My balcony opens up onto a busyish road where people aren’t shy about using their horn if it looks like the driver ahead has slowed 1mph below the speed limit.

Emiliya my Bulgarian flatmate has a tendency to have Skype conversations at raised volumes at 1am. Bulgarian is one of those languages which tends to sound angry regardless of what they’re saying so I honestly can’t tell whether she’s shouting because she’s very upset or very happy. Plus her bed squeaks so loudly that it sounds like it’s in my room, which adds to my permanent state of semi-consciousness.

The couple upstairs also have a baby. A very angry one.

It’s not all doom and gloom though! There are many many things I will miss about living in France, especially Bordeaux, which I will write about soon.

Counting down…

25 Nov

The past couple of weeks seem to have been taken over by the sudden influx of work I’ve been given since half term. Along with obscene amounts of translation each week, I’ve been attempting to start a linguistics essay every weekend since the end of October, but only managed to actually get going on Wednesday. As is always the case, it’s surprising how much other stuff you can get done when you really need to write an essay. Hence why my room is now tidy and I’ve finally managed to relace the Converses I undid to put in the washing machine 18 months ago.

A few recent highlights include the Établissement Français du Sang setting up camp at the uni for a few days last week. This seems like a genius idea, as setting up on campus right by the tram stop meant everyone knew about it and there was a massive amount of interest. I try to give blood as often as I can in Bristol, but this always means trekking up to the zoo of all places. England could definitely take a leaf out of France’s books on how to get donation levels up.

I was amused by the choice of taglines used to try and lure potential donors in: instead of being called don de sang (blood donation), which would imply that it’s voluntary, it was called collecte du sang (literally ‘blood collection’) which put the image in my head of some sort of blood taxman coming to chase up all those who hadn’t given their fair share yet this year. The subheading translated along  the lines of  ‘give blood to receive it’ which hopefully was more of a suggestion than an enforced rule!

Being a massive lover of all things festive, November is the time when frosty days where I can see my breath remind me that it’s not long to go, and combined with going to see the lights in town in the evening, I start to feel decidedly Christmassy. Here however, the temperature has stubbornly remained in the low teens, with no signs of dropping in the next couple of weeks. Like an ungrateful teenager who complains about getting the wrong car for Christmas, recently anyone I have encountered has been moaned at about the relatively mild, pleasant sunny weather, when what I really want is icy roads and frosty trees. I’ll probably regret wishing for a white Christmas when a freak snowstorm prevents me from getting home in 4 weeks!* Either that or the world will actually end on the 21st, a day before my flight, which will be a bit of a setback.

On a similarly gloomy note (don’t worry I’m saving the cheery things until later), one thing that has become very clear since having had a few exams is how hostile some French students are towards Erasmus students. Despite the fact that most of them will be heading on years abroad themselves, they have been known to point-blank refuse to sit next to us, and openly swear when put into groups to work with us. I’d like to think at Bristol the students are pretty welcoming to Erasmus students, trying to get them involved socially and helping them out in class with any tricky vocab/misunderstandings. Here I’ve found that the only students willing to talk to us are other Erasmus students from different countries (we all tend to stick together and speak bad French at each other) or mature students.

A lot of us have had to put up with some pretty childish behaviour, such as French students getting stroppy and having a go at the teacher over us being allowed French monolingual dictionaries in exams (given that these exams were usually translations between French and another foreign language, this seems fair right?)

One a more positive note, last Saturday a group of us went to see The xx live, one of my favourite bands. I was so happy to find out they were playing here, although I found the venue was a bit big for their genre of music, they seem more suited to intimate gigs. Here are some terrible quality photographs which won’t really give you a great sense of what it was like:

On Friday we went to the opening day of the Christmas market, which was lovely although a little bit small and lacking in a certain German-ness we had all been hoping for. Still, I got my fill of crepes and mulled wine (just called vin chaud here). Most of the Christmas lights are on in town now, and what’s nice is that not just the main areas of town are lit up, but also lots of side streets and areas further out. I managed to get a few shots although I’ll definitely be making another trip specifically to go look at lights!

In the continued theme of Christmas, only 1 month to go!

 

*Update: I intended on posting this yesterday, but the countdown now stands at 3 weeks 6 days.

Sights of the day

At the tuck shop on campus (didn’t know about it until last week) they sell lots of weird items individually, such as tampons, plastic cutlery, and those little lemon handwipes that are usually free on planes. While shopping with Lucy we found this single KitKat bar…for those times when a whole KitKat is just too much?

I finally got to fulfil my wish to eat a Royale with Cheese from a French MacDonald’s (actually just called a Royal Cheese here, I’m guessing the double whammy of trying to pronounce a ‘w’ and ‘th’ in the same word is a bit tricky for many French people). For those of you who don’t know what this is a reference to, you really need to get up to date with pop culture. Here’s an explanation. I have to say that the beef here, even in a Maccy D’s burger, is amazing. Far superior to the English version. Plus you can have a Heineken as part of the meal deal.

Yesterday I got on to a crowded tram and found myself standing next to a cardboard box with a few small holes in, and noticed I could see something moving inside. Combined with the pungent smell of pet shop, I assumed there was some poor animal trapped in there waiting to be turned into a roast dinner. After a few minutes it moved enough to stick some feather’s out, so I’m guessing it was a chicken. You’d never get away with bringing live poultry on the tube.

Post half-term blues

14 Nov

A combination of various factors led to me having an embarrassingly weepy moment on the plane back to Bordeaux early on Monday morning, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to wait half an hour in the rain for one of my buses home, and I had a test to revise for that afternoon.

Tuesday evening was spent writing a presentation for the following day that the teacher had only set just before half term, meaning that the idea of it being a team effort went completely out the window. I know I’ve ranted before about my Italian oral teacher, but I’m going to rant again. I have never encountered such a  jobsworth in my life, not even in the various administrative departments of the schools and universities (yes even in Bordeaux 3) that I have attended.

When we turned up to class on Wednesday morning, he was (as usual) late, and only at that point did he realise that the room we were supposed to do powerpoint presentations in had neither a projector nor even a computer. Cue him disappearing for 15 minutes to get the necessary equipment, while we chatted with the other groups who were supposed to be presenting that day who complained that they had had no time to practice together either because of the half term. Apparently they had emailed him to ask for a bit more time to which his reply was just ‘no’.

Upon his return, he started a spiel about ‘it’s not my problem if you’re not ready, you do the presentation when I tell you to, I don’t make the rules etc. etc.’ which caused one of the feistier students to literally start screaming abuse at him, which wasted another 10 minutes or so. He argued that it’s not his fault if we couldn’t work together over the half term due to being in different towns/countries, we’re the ones who chose our group members, and refused to listen to any of our reasoning. He is basically a brick wall with qualifications.

Following this he spent a further 10 minutes trying to set up the computer and projector, meaning that the first 15 minute presentation started 40 minutes into an hour class. Thankfully for us, that means we don’t have to do ours until next Wednesday, meaning we have a bit of time to polish things up.

UPDATE: This week he managed to put us in a room with a projector. However, a surprising level of keenness the likes of which I have never seen so far at this university meant that only 2 presentations got done, each at a whopping half hour each. Who voluntarily writes a presentation double the suggested length in a language that isn’t their own when (as far as I know) the mark doesn’t even count?! Since we have a test next week, I have no idea if/when this presentation will ever get done. Rant over.

Last week was also another surprise triple-decker DEFLE whammy, with 3 consecutive evenings of French classes. By Thursday evening I was ready to curl up in a ball and never look at prepositions ever again. Thankfully however, this means that for the following 2 weeks I only have the Thursday class. I definitely intend to use the time I would be at the Tuesday class to do more work, but I can tell it’s just going to end with me googling various Christmas-related activities in Bordeaux. Hello Christmas Market that starts next week!

Having spoken to a lot of other  Bordeaux 3 students recently, it seems there’s a definite melancholy going round, as everyone’s basically grown a bit tired with the university as a whole, and some of us have less than 6 weeks left now. I’m trying to keep myself busy by planning various activities (eg. seeing The xx on Saturday, SO EXCITED), and a few us have been looking into a spontaneous weekend trip in the next month or so. I really really want to go to Germany when the Christmas markets have started, but it turns out that it’s surprisingly difficult and expensive to get there from Bordeaux 😦

Friday was Sinead’s birthday so a bunch of us headed to Abbie’s house for drinks and general catching up since many of us hadn’t seen each other for several weeks. I also had the pleasure of witnessing Sinead dance to Gangnam Style, which officially made my week. The weekend was spent writing something in the range of 1500 words of translation, spread out across my 4 different translation classes. Cue grumpy face. Sorry about all the grumbling, hopefully I’ll be in a better mood next week.

Sight of the day

Since I didn’t see anything particularly new or exciting last week, so instead I’m going to tell you about some of the strange things people have Googled which have somehow led them to this blog. Credits to Paul for the idea, his version of this is far more entertaining.

WordPress has a stats section which tells you things like how many views you’d have, of what posts, and where your visitors come from. Hello to my lone reader in Serbia. I hope Eastern Europe is treating you well.

Another section includes Google searches that have led to your blog. There have been some fairly normal ones, such as ‘louise a l’etranger blogspot’ (close enough), to the slightly more odd ‘youtube chlamydia’ (before anyone makes any jokes, this did actually come up in one blog post.)

My favourite however has to be ‘louisa scrubbing floor closeup’ which has somehow brought TWO different people here. Why do they want to watch this Louisa scrub the floor? And why specifically closeup?? I think there are some questions in life which we are better off just not knowing the answer to.

Half Term

10 Nov

Sorry for taking even longer to write this post than the last one, especially Aaron who complained last night about the lack of updates on my life. So here it is:

Last week was half term in Bordeaux (yes even for the uni, win) so from Saturday to Wednesday I had the pleasure of having my family to visit. On Saturday I set off with a spring in my step towards the bus stop, having meticulously planned how to get to the airport in time to greet the fam. As we all know, nothing in Bordeaux tends to go as planned, and while the buses here are generally prompt if not early, the drivers themselves have the emotional capabilities of a robot. Having patiently waited for the 34, as it drove up I got up to stand by the curb, only to have the bus go straight past me while the driver looked me dead in the eye as I gestured angrily at him. Slightly put off but with time to spare, I sat and waited the 20 minutes for the next one.

This time, I was determined it was going to stop for me, and I waited practically in the road and waved my arm at the bus. Yet again it did not stop. It did, however, pull up at the next stop just down the road. I decided to wait there instead, and had far better luck, even having the driver of the 44 (which I ignored as it was going nowhere near the airport) pull over to try to persuade me to get on board. Maybe he was lonely. Anyway, I’m not sure if there’s some unspoken rule about buses in Bordeaux not stopping everywhere marked on the route, but long story short, I eventually got to the airport, and coincidentally just as my family were getting out of baggage reclaim.

They stayed at the Adagio in Gambetta, definitely recommended for anyone who has family coming to stay as it’s right in the middle of town. That night we had dinner at l’Entrecôte, where we even managed to fit dessert in. Still hands down my favourite restaurant ever.

During the night I was woken at about 2am by a loud explosion followed by the sound of gushing water. The boiler had chosen an opportune moment to explode, causing a stream of murky brown water to spread through the apartment and any chance of hot water to go out the window. Thankfully, my flatmate Simon is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades/MacGyver figure so managed to dig out some old tubing that my landlord had left in the laundry (thanks for being a cluttered mess Jean Marc) and rerouted the water into the shower opposite. This took about an hour, and was the same night that the clocks went back, meaning that I in fact went back to bed at the exact same time I got up so I just pretended the whole thing didn’t happen. It was only in the morning that I realised I’d have to shower at my parents’ hotel, but I’m lucky they were in town when it happened!

The next day we went for a drive to Arcachon to check out the town and have some lunch. I got to have oysters for the first time, which I guess are ok if you like paying a lot of money for a mouthful of cold fleshy seawater. Not my cup of tea it has to be said.

In the afternoon we went to the Dune de Pyla, which I had visited a few years ago on a school trip, but it still didn’t fail to impress me with it’s sheer size. When you tell people it’s a big sand dune, most people assume it’s a slightly jazzed-up version of West Wittering, but the Dune de Pyla is something else. Wikipedia has informed that it is 108m above sea level and holds 60,000,000 m³ of sand. So quite a lot. Here’s a couple of pictures for scale purposes.

On Monday we went to St Émilion where we got to taste some (what I have been told is) very nice wine, and I continued my trend of eating barely-cooked beef by having carpaccio at lunch. This trend carried on on Tuesday evening where I had steak tartare for dinner at Les Provinces (another good one to take parents to) which followed the biggest bowl of mussels I have ever seen in my life. Here’s some foodporn:

Cooked meat is for the weak

Tuesday was a general city-touring day, where my parents finally got to ride on the tram system that they had been fascinated by since their arrival. On Wednesday, we all headed back to the UK, although on marginally different flights it turns out, due to a minor miscommunication between my mum and myself. I’m not going to point the finger of blame at anyone. Having already been in a car, on a tram and a plane that day, from Luton it took me a further bus, train, tube and coach, plus 6 hours, to get to Bristol. But for the meagre price of £15 I really shouldn’t complain.

I stayed in Bristol until Saturday lunchtime, managing to cram in as much as possible with some of my favourite people, including a pub trip with a lot of old A Fry-ers, a catchup with a bellydance friend at the most amazing new cupcake place at Clifton Down, and a rather eventful DIY haircut (not my hair) involving the one and only John Smallwood. Life is never dull with him around. Also apologies to Will’s house for their boiler breaking, I think it’s something about me that causes them to fall apart.

On Saturday I headed to London on the Megabus with a group of Bristol mates to see Shpongle live (highly recommended), and generally chilled in London until Sunday night where I briefly headed home to be reunited with my family, the dog, and my mum’s home cooking. Much love to my dad for getting up at a horrible time on Monday morning to take me to Luton.

Sights of the day

Having walked past the vending machine at the Adagio several times, Matthew and I were overcome by curiosity and just had to splash out the €2.50 on this tiny can of ‘Cacolac’. The name would suggest some sort of chocolate/coffee/laxative combo, which isn’t really that far off. It turned out to be an ambitious attempt at Nesquik in a can, although given that it was clearly made with UHT milk, it didn’t really hit the spot.

 

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