Sunday, 30 December 2012

Christmas in Marseille: It's not the end of the world.

It's the 30th December 2012, and we're all still here. No zombie apocalypse, or rain of fire in this part of the world anyways, in fact, the weather here is still beautiful, and not seasonal at all. All I wanted for Christmas was a winter wonderland in Aix-en-Provence; Santa you suck balls.

I've not long returned back to Aix from spending Christmas with my mum and sister in Marseille, which was lovely. It's a shame there were no apartments on for the centre of Aix for a reasonable price otherwise we probably would have stayed here, but alas, we ended up in the big city.

And even after living here for several months, I've never been to Marseille that often, and I've certainly never spent a great deal of time there. I now kinda like it. It has that slightly local feel (despite it being France's second city), as well as being very multicultural. There are turkish kebab stalls everywhere, and Algerian-style clothes stores everywhere you look, even right next to Hermès, Louis Vuitton and the Chanel store.
It's a bit intimidating though, and the general advice given from our universities to female Erasmus students to be careful of French men in clubs and pubs applies to the streets here as well. My mum commented on how many heads turned when walking past a café, seemingly only frequented by North African men, and how, to her, they looked a bit like they were on the prowl even at midday.
My thirteen year old sister also got hit on by a much older (and drunk) guy near the main train station, but she brushed him off in quite a classy manner nevertheless, which was equally as surprising!

One memory which I will never forget is turning my back for two minutes and then my mum telling me she just accidentally got involved in a drug deal in the middle of the street.

Marseille is madness.

As well as being one of the poorest cities in France with a high rate of unemployment, it can also be the most beautiful and inspiring. We quickly realised this climbing up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, a large cathedral overlooking Marseille and its port. The views were so breathtaking and the panorama of the city is so big that it wouldn't even fit in one photo even from so high up, and they really made us feel small.

Seafood on the port in Marseille

Me, mum and sister in Marseille.

Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille.

the city doesn't even fit in  the background of this photo. Amazing.

Christmas Day was nice, we had dinner late, watched some trashy films on trashy French TV channels, opened presents and got drunk.
Boxing Day was really interesting though, we went for a walk right down the coast from the Port down by the Calanques [rock formations on the coast just outside of Marseille] and the weather was lovely, there were even people on the beach!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Amsterdam and the Case of the stoners and the missing bicycle.

I don't have much to write about Amsterdam since I don't remember anything, but why have I got tickets to a medieval torture instrument museum and a sex museum ticket for midnight in my pocket? Also where is all my money? Some mad shit went down then? Yes pretty much.

I woke up almost each morning in Amsterdam thinking: oh my god, how did I get back, and which completely defenseless Red light district prostitute did I try to free last night, like freeing slaves or fleeing farmyard animals.
I also lost my bike in Amsterdam after getting too stoned and parking it somewhere without completely remembering where I had parked it. It took a few more joints and a canal tour offered free by Heineken to work out exactly where in Amsterdam I was that one night. Lauren had died in the hostel after eating too much cake, so i'd went for a cheeky joint in the hostel (Flying Pig....which was amazing by the way) and then for a ride into town to have a look at some prostitutes. because it's Amsterdam, and you can do that shit there. Also it was funny to see these girls think that they're luring me into their sex-boxes when I'd more than likely prefer their (male) pimp to them.
I'd went to a bar and sat down next to some American guy on his own, travelling because his friends didn't want to come to Amsterdam too, so he was stoned as fuck and pretty lonely. I took him for a smoke and a beer and from thereafter I can't remember. What I can remember though is almost riding into a canal and having to book myself a taxi home later on!

But I still had sex museum tickets, and I can't remember going there but I do have vague memories of seeing some women do interesting stuff with their nether regions, but nevertheless, I thought I was just in some sort of hell/purgatory for my sins as a gay man. Also that being said, there were definitely not enough half naked gays parading around Amsterdam......

So my first weekend in Amsterdam was bizarre, hopefully going back soon, but I think after my first few days there I need a break and a return to civilisation. Lucky for me then, i've got a massive drop back into the realisations of the modern world: I now have fuck all money until the start of January, Christmas will be fun then.
This is a painting of the wall of the 'Grasshopper' coffee shop. Yes, it's a grasshopper violating a woman.

Europe is worth it though.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Na, was geht ab, Berlin?: Techno, Glühwein, Bretzeln and hipster markets in Kreuzberg.....

From the beauty of France and the south coast, Berlin is somewhat different: Industrial, moody and dark but energetic and friendly and obscure at the same time. It's also lovely and festive down here. Christmas markets and Feuerzangenbowle are everywhere: a type of alcoholic punch, like glühwein but stuffed full of rum (which has been poured over giant lumps of sugar and set ablaze) and other lovely things, with speculoos biscuits and a lot of festive cheer and impending drunkenness.

We did all that lovely touristy shit; explored the Berlin wall and its graffiti at the openair East Side Gallery; stood infront of the Brandenburger Tor in awe; ate enormous amounts of Bratwurst and 'Champignons mit Krautersoße' and every other clichéd wonder that comes to mind when thinking about Berlin, but I really want to talk about the obscure things we've found and done.

Last night we planned on going to Berghain, the world's best techno club and certainly the most mysterious one, but didn't make it past the scrupulously bizarre door policy and instead ended up in some small, alternative and cosy techno warehouse in Kreuzberg. Going until 9am on Sunday morning it's still not open as long as the behemoth of techno, but it was fucking awesome. We came back home on the U-bahn at 5am ish with severe back ache and drunk as hell, it was awesome. There was even a 60-yr old hipster looking DJ going at it in the other smaller room of this abandoned warehouse, so bizarre.
On trying to find an art gallery here in Berlin we ended up in some hipster market selling expensive clothes to expensive (but obviously vintage) looking people and being completely drowned in interesting things to buy and wear. It's a wonder my bank balance is still looking healthy.

If anything is going to kill me here in Berlin, itäs going to be the 24hr party policy and the shit loads of amazing food available on every corner. Also Currywurst. nom nom nom.

Off to Amsterdam tomorrow, i'l post something about the Dutch legend if i'm not too baked off my tits

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Nice was nice.

Well after a heavy unprecedented night of drinking with the guys and girls in Aix for Steph's birthday we decided to actually get a move on and get to Nice. Good idea. Apart from the hungover trains yeah...
After getting into Nice, within one hour of arrival we were blown away, not the first time I've been here but undoubtedly the best; without family, the almost expected ball and chain situations and being able to just wander around freely are probably the best part about exploring any city, but with Nice it's even better. Finding backalley coffee shops and Cuban cocktail restaurants is definitely an experience beyond any.

Just a very quick update, since i'm currently using Russian keyboard settings in an English speaking hostel in Nice, France, but i'm having an amazing time here in France and extremely excited for Berlin tomorrow. If anyone sees a drunken Gluhwein-corrupted English boy strolling around Berlin tomorrow, then watch out. I'll be enjoying myself too much to give a shit about anyone else bitches.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

That time of the year.

While exam time back at uni in England is generally best kept at the back of my mind until after gorging myself over Christmas and spending the 2/3 week holiday not actually doing revision, the university system here spreads the exams and assessments before and after the holidays, and whereas I would love normally to just get everything out of the way in one big block rather than bitty assessments here there and everywhere, I can imagine if this year was to count towards my final degree mark I would be shitting bricks doing it that way.

We've got it pretty sweet here as Erasmus students to be honest though, averaging on 1 exam per week over the next two months, maybe with a presentation here or there. And as stated before, they're all spread out to make things even easier.

Easier. That's all depending on actually turning up to classes, which Gareth has not been doing.
I'm normally good at exams, but that's because I normally spend moments of my life actually doing some revision and not drowning myself in mulled wine à la Katy a few nights before an exam I haven't even taken class notes for.

In fact, so many cares have been given so far this year that I actually forgot until today that one of my exams is tomorrow, as well as having a tense, revealing group presentation which certainly wasn't the highlight of my university career (...despite how well it actually went the planning stage was the most horrific thing i've possibly ever done).
I'm not such a good student, especially here in Europe....there's just too many distractions. I definitely blame the distractions: If it's not the lure of café culture and lounging around with a café crème all day long, or the lure of going somewhere exciting and seeing something brand new each day, it's the lure of my comfy bed and/or the people in it.

However, I'm not too worried about these next few weeks, the exam content is basically exactly what we studied last year in MFL (sigh), and the rest is common sense stuff. I would suggest to anyone studying abroad to make sure that your language skills are top before worrying too hard about the content. In our case, as long as we can explain something concisely and clearly we're off to a good start....

As well as December being a time for exams, i'm also off on my travels again. Myself and Lauren are all booked up for my birthday jailbreak from the 14th-20th this month. We're visiting Nice, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels and I am so excited it's unreal. Once again the king of corner cutting has managed to get a week long holiday for pennies, while staying in some amazing looking accommodation and cities around the world. I can't contain my excitement so i'm just gonna leave it there.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

I can't believe it's December already.

December is my favourite month of the year. There's my birthday at the beginning, Christmas and New Year's Eve at the end and the vaccuum in the middle filled with the excitement of getting to Christmas, as well as the end of exams, the university year and a few weeks holiday. Also snow.

Snow is one of my favourite things about this time of year, it's incredibly fun and you can build giant snowcocks on every street corner if you so wish. it blankets everything in beauty, and, given the right type of cold and therefore the right type of snow, makes winter even more magical. Ice or sleet or sludge, and frankly ain't nobody got time for that.

Which is why it's incredibly bizarre being in the south of France in December for the first time in my life. There's no Christmassy feel (yet). The skies are blue, and it's relatively warm all things given. The nights are wicked cold however, so don't let Provence trick you with that one. Deciding to just wear a jumper into town instead of my large winter coat and two jumpers despite coming back late at night was a terrible terrible mistake. I swear I nearly got frostbite.

I'm all geared up to have an amazing Christmas with my mum and sister here, who are flying out to visit over the Christmas period, and i'm quite excited for them to come over to be able to enjoy Provence as much as I have, but I still feel at the moment it's not festive enough.

I need inches of snow and blistering cold to make that market-stall Glühwein feel so much better for my health. (on that note, i'm so far unimpressed at how unauthentic it has been. It needs to be spiced, given in cheap yet large quantities and it needs to be served with cheer amongst roaring laughter around the stand for it to be truly authentically German. I'm going to Berlin for my yearly fix so it's all not lost though).

I promise I will be more upbeat and jolly about Christmas soon though, there just needs to be snow and a few Christmas songs to be played at me for me to succumb to festive cheer.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


wanderlust, n. ˈwɒndəlʌst/ /ˈvandərlʊst/
Etymology: German.

An eager desire or fondness for wandering or travelling

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

One of my favourite words, which perfectly sus up my feelings right now. It's coming clearer to me that we're soon in December, bringing my time in Aix-en-Provence to a close, almost. Whereas i'm staying here over Christmas with my mum and sister in a vacational rental apartment and then not leaving Aix as a student until mid-January, December is going to be one massive blow out of seeing as much of the south of France as possible before I leave for not so sunny Spain ('ll be January for christ's sake. I couldn't have picked a better time to go, obviously).

It's a dreary day in Aix and I all I can think of is future plans and idea. What plans I have already are, of course, subject to me actually finally getting my Erasmus grant through, which has been in  the 'pipeline' for ages.  Grumble grumble.

Me and a friend Lauren are going to Berlin for my 22nd birthday weekend via Nice, then on to Amsterdam and then Brussels around the start of December, along with friends who will be in Berlin at the same time!

I also really wanted to explore the Luberon, and all its small villages and beautiful scenery as well as some beachy towns on the Côte d'Azur.

And hopefully, if I haven't spent all of my money on planes and buses and trains by then, i'd love to go skiing in January. I've never skied before, and what better part of the world to be right next to than then French Alps. Apparently from Nice it's only 2 hours away by bus, costing 1€ each way. Awesome.

Almost a perfect circle of new travelling experiences all into one week.

Monday, 26 November 2012

I woke up in a church on top of a mountain in the South of France this morning.

Not every day I get to say that.

The mountain was great, the climb was hard and the church was eerie. But it was such a nice trip to take. I feel like I've been rattling on too much to people how awesome a fucking mountain was, but awesome is an understatement. I love the fact we have an enormous mountain just round the corner (and actually visible from our halls) and that we just conquered it!

When it got dark and colder we even built a fire inside the refuge on top of the mountain summit.

Mont St Victoire - overlooking Provence

The courtyard of the church and refuge at the summit of the mountain.

La Croire de Provence - a gigantic cross at the very summit of Mt St Victoire overlooking everything and everyone.

Building fires
Me on top of a mountain INSIDE A CLOUD

Friday, 23 November 2012

Mont St Victoire, and doing life on the cheap.

Without wanting to dwell on my financial situation too much, it has to be said I'm doing alright without money in my life whatsoever. I am now down to my last euro almost, which will be strategically spent on long life tasty French pain de mie.....or toast bread if you don't want to be so fancy about it, but I am still not really that worried.
I've been out every day, and almost every night at parties organised by others, which have often involved a little spread of food and a bottle of wine lurking around. Not to say the free finger buffets are the only reason I've been going out, but they certainly help! I'm loving being frugal and still being able to have a really good time.

A few nights ago there was an international Erasmus 'soirée' speech thing, which involved us Erasmus students having certain future plans regaled and unveiled about the halls and dorms for future Erasmus  years to us (which in my opinion was quite irrelevant because...err....we won't be here?!).
Anyways in celebration of -something I can't quite remember- there was a high-quality international buffet of food. There was japanese sushi, Indian food with lots of spices and humous, Italian style ciabattas as well as tapenade (a local Marseillaise speciality) and vol-au-vents and stuff like that.

It was beautiful.

These were lovely: Sundried pepper and tomato in
a very sour cream.

Sushi, some coconut marzipan balls and dried ginger 
Undoubtedly a very fake Italian chef

Another little party like this one was Katy's 21st surprise birthday party which a few of us organised. Some of the girls I'm here in Aix with booked out a room in the student halls buildings to host a nice bit of a do for her. We led her in blindfolded, thinking that she was coming to see me and see something i'd wanted to surprise her with personally, but in reality she walked in on the entire group of friends here. She nearly broke down in tears she was so shocked!
We made her an book with pictures of us in and holiday photos that we'd all taken together and that made her cry even more. Then we got drunk. Very very drunk.

All my sexy boys and girls from Aix-en-Provence for Katy's 21st. Katy's the one being lifted up on the top left, and that's me looking like a Japanese tourist on the left with the green jeans.

So eventually, coming to the crux and the point of this blogpost ( rattling off a load of text about what i've done the previous week happens way to much on this blog), this Sunday a few friends are going up camping on Mont St Victoire, a local massif which looks gloriously over Aix-en-Provence. It's quite famous actually, Van Gogh used to paint provençal lavender fields with St Victoire in the background, and most of the famous painter Cézanne's work was based on, or around, St Victoire.

There is a small pilgrimage rest-stop inside a church at the top of the mountain which we're going to camp inside of, as well as a giant cliffside where we can make a campfire. It's gonna be awesome. I can't wait to see what all the fuss is about, and hopefully I won't be killed by rabid mountain animals or stranded and hungry cannibalistic tourists!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Beg, borrow and steal.

Aix-en-Provence is really not the easiest of places to live without a job unless you were either born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you won the lottery a few years ago and are happily cruising on the cumulative interest on your bank account. It's a place where rich people go to die in provençal rental apartment heaven and where students actually look like they've made an effort in the morning; there are no jogger pants and last night's t-shirts here i'm afraid.... (Gotta say I love that feeling when you roll into uni feeling like shit but know everyone else is the same too).

Anyway, to cut to the chase: I am pretty fucking penniless right now. And still waiting for my Erasmus grant which ill give me enough money to live comfortably until January when I get my nxt student loan payment. It sucks.

On the plus side, it has made me work out how to be a bit more frugal and not just sit in bed shovelling Viennoiseries down my throat all day and then wondering where my money went. I miss cake so much.

So imagine my elation when a friend suggested we all get together to cook curries to celebrate Diwali? There turned out to be around 15 of us who wanted to join in, so we all bought vegetables, spices, rice as well as wine on the cheap and then split the cost for everyone who was eating. Worked to be about 2€ each to make enough for everyone 3 times over; about four big vats of curry and shitloads of rice to add to that. There was an aubergine and chickpea curry as well as chicken coconut curry which everyone kept trying to nick tastes of behind the cook's backs and some others which i've forgotten the ingredients of but oh my god I need the recipe because they were so damn tasty.

As I was writing this, I decided I definitely needed to finally buy some food before I die of starvation.  I just spent my last few euros on a few baguettes, some fruit and soft cheese so hopefully I should be able to snack my days away until my bursary comes through! Definitely considering living on Nutella sandwiches....

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Taking trips

I just stumbled again on my old blog which, written in 2009 at the tender age of 19, was supposed to 'document my life before, during and after university'. It's now the end of 2012, i'm almost 22, still at uni and reading this blog makes it sound like a million years ago. It also reads like what you would expect an angsty teenager's blog to be like. There is a lot of angry ranting posts towards my housemates in Coventry who I really hated, as well as mushy posts about my ex Kai, who i'd been going out with for almost 2 months in a weird Anglo-German LDR via the internet.

I'm not going to show the world it however, especially because there is one post where I uploaded almost-naked pictures of Kai, who was posing with only a trilby hat covering his modesty. As much as we didn't break up on enormously great terms, I'm still not that much of a bastard to potentially embarrass him over the internet especially after so long without hearing from him.

Anyways, i'm not entirely sure whether that little discovery has cheered me up or made me feel a little bit more down today, it's made me realise that i'm still not finished university, and made me think again how long left I actually still have. I don't want to be a perpetual student anymore...

Everyone promised me that i'd have a fucking billboard time in France and that I wouldn't have anything to worry about, yet here I am sat in my chambre traditionelle in just my boxers eating vine tomatoes as a 'main course'. I just cannot wait until the next installment of my uni Erasmus grant comes through in a few weeks.

It's about time to get on to the real topic about this post and something a hell of a lot more relevant to the title than moaning about my lack of wealth. I was going to be substantially more subtle about this topic because I didn't want people to judge me, but fuck it. If you judge me, you judge me. An ex-boyfriend of mine even suggested that I should go on my Erasmus year and come back to England a much more mature person, yet I can safely say that I am a hell of a lot more world-wise and a lot happier from not following his advice.

I recently took quite a lot of a legal hallucinogenic drug (legal in France) while here in Aix-en-Provence and it was a really fucked-up experience. It was LSA, similar to acid, but in grain form and it's quite cheap but still very powerful.
What I definitely do remember was the effect it had on language, making it seem much 'smoother', easier to comprehend and sound a lot more pleasant. I find it quite interesting to note how alcohol changes language ability, and without trying to sound like a PhD student or a junkie, I certainly do like to test that theory quite a lot. I turned up to my German and French oral exams last academic year quite tipsy. It worked well and I did surprisingly better than what I thought I would.

Aaaanyways, it was fun. it's only the the second time i've done something like that and the first was better, but our mistake was going outside. Meeting some friends in a packed Irish bar in the middle of Aix through Dark provençal alleyways and lots of drunk people is not the best idea for when you're tripping balls on acid.

It's not the glorified colour-changing mind trip that films make it out to be. And there's certainly no little dragons that pop out from nowhere. Lights were brighter and colours were more intense and my pupils were as big as dinner plates but according to friends we just looked really drunk. I did get very lost though trying to find a toilet in an Irish bar across the street, ended up wandering alleyways a little bit and then panicked (not a good idea), but all was well.

There's not enough letters in the alphabet for all the things I've done in the last few weeks.....

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Newcastle, reverse culture shock, Greggs pasties and drugs and jazz.

Returning from Provence was a trek. Instead of taking the train from Marseille - Montpellier as was planned (due to train strikes on that exact date), I had to explore a few of my options:
  1. Stay in Provence. Okay, so it's a lot warmer, the food is better and it's maybe even more of a place i'd like to live in than Newcastle, but I still really miss home, my friends and my family. This was not an option
  2. Covoiturage from Aix -> Montpellier. A car share website just like CouchSurfing, where you apply to people's pre-given routes/destinations and organise a possible carshare together, for a small fee given to the driver to cover petrol.
  3. Staying in a hostel in Montpellier the day before my flight. This was my preferred option, but unfortunately due to the time restrictions of actually having responsibilities for once, I couldn't miss my B2 French class. It's a shame, because it's a city I would have loved to explore.
Those were genuinely my only options around this time of year, so me and a friend from class who coincidentally booked the same flights/dates & times/UK destination chose to try out Covoiturage. It was awesome. We got picked up at 7am just outside of Aix, had a bizarre conversation with one of the passengers who was about 70 and travelling on her own until I ended up falling asleep and woke up to being poked awake when arrive at the airport.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to save some money, or save their journey because of some higher uncontrollable problem such as striking for sure!

Coming back to Newcastle (via Leeds and York) was surprisingly different than I expected. As I approached Durham on the east coast line, I began to see snow and as soon I arrived in Newcastle all hell had seemingly broken loose.
Newcastle Central Station was packed with travellers like me, waiting for delayed services to Scotland and even more central parts of the Arctic Circle.... Buses were running skeleton services and, despite the snow and rain being pretty gruesome, there were still middle aged women prancing around in t-shirts and belts (can't bring myself to describe what they were wearing as even mini-skirts).

Such things are quite ordinary up here, but after living here for around 20 years, being away for just 4 months and then coming back, these things become more glaringly obvious and slightly bizarre.

I'm not about to bad-mouth my hometown, and home for most of my life so far, but there really are things I bloody hate about this place. I'm not giving up on it so easily though, and i'm not sure i've been totally bowled over yet by the promise of moving to Provence after my graduation.

Anyways moving on, someone commented on this blog congratulating me for not posting 'self centered' tit-bits of my travels 'like most year abroad blogs', but I have quite a few cool things to tell, so here's a self-centred recall of one of the best. I don't want to blow up my ego after all.

We went to see Mr Scruff in a nightclub in Newcastle, he's a electro/jazz/reggae/funkywhatever DJ who is absolutely amazing and I would love to see again. The nightclub wasn't too packed which was awesome, there was brownies and a tea stand as well as normal alcohol at the bar and we all dropped a whole shitload of drugs just to top it all off. The best jazz is jazz with a side serving of mandy, after all.

We danced on the bar, talked to random people about absolute rubbish and pulled out some absolutely wicked dance moves (As usual, of course) and a great night was had even though the moustaches we were gonna wear fell off for most of us!

Apart from that i've just been hanging out with friend and seeing my family again. Tomorrow it's Halloween and I have my costume sorta planned so i'll let the interwebs know how that went and if I managed not to fall into a gutter in Newcastle or not. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Going home.

In 4 days I am going back home, and I'm quite excited actually. I always thought I'd be the last person to be homesick,  but i've kinda caught the bug of missing creature comforts like Mum's Sunday dinners and lovely things like that.

I'm gonna make an absolute whirlwind tour of as many places with as many of my friends back home as possible. I'm stopping off in Leeds, York and then Newcastle (and possibly Liverpool at the start of November), which should be exciting! Might be going to Blackpool too, to go ride on some scary looking rollercoasters with a few friends from York.

I'm not sure what to expect from being back home, so I think i'm just going to try to not expect anything. I want to do as many cool things as possible which won't make me homesick but  will really remind me of home. I think Greggs and saveloy sandwiches are definitely in order.

This is all reliant on the fact that I can actually get to the airport to catch my flight. France does not like things going smoothly.

A different perspective on some of the buildings in Newcastle City Centre. The nice one is a Waterstones and the modern glass building is a shopping centre slap bang in the heart of the Toon.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

What the French do best...

I've just found out that there is to be an SNCF [train company] strike in France (as well as Air France) on the day that I have to take the train from Marseille to Montpellier to get back to England, so i'm seemingly fucked. As much as I complain about Ryanair being the crème de la shit of air travel, I would rather like to take my flight on the 25th thank you very much.....

Now the biggest problem is that it really isn't that far to Montpellier from around here, but I don't think there are any buses that go directly there, so my only reasonable way of getting there is by train. That and i've already booked my train tickets in advance to take advantage of the cheaper prices. So yes. Thanks France!

It is my opinion that the national hobby of France is to find as many legal ways of not working as possible throughout the year......and they couldn't have stumbled upon a better time. It's Toussaint holiday at the end of October (spanning through to the beginning of November) and most schools/universities will be out for 'half-term' because of this.

Now the clever part:

Most schools/unis will end classes Friday 26th until around Monday 5th November, giving just over 10 days with weekends of holiday, some schools may give an extra week.

But the strikers are planning to cut services completely from the Wednesday 24th- Friday 26th October, effectively only giving them two working days through that week. If you're a train driver and you don't have to work [solid] hours through the weekend then you're absolutely laughing.

You've got to hand it to them, if there's one thing they know how to do well, it's to create carnage through deprivation of public services!

It could be cynical to say that the French don't like working, but rather enjoy pleasure, or it could be true. Who knows. Given the choice between sunbathing in my back garden with a mojito and working a long, arduous shift on the trains I know which I'd choose......

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Back to the grind. (Ha, ha, très drôle)

After a weekend away to Croatia with some of my very good Erasmus friends here in Aix, I am back and settled in France once again. At least I think I am.

This last week has been such a whirlwind of things happening here, stress (or lack thereof) at uni, things with friends from home, chatting with friends abroad in Germany and seeing how much of a good time they're having, as well as trips we've been organising here there and everywhere, to the point that it has all made me feel a little displaced at the moment.

And that's not the only thing: the weather is going beserk recently. Last night there was a giant lightning storm over Aix with thunder, lightning and torrential rain and apparently a tornado in nearby Plan-de-Campagne.

Not only that, but winter is slowly coming. Slowly being the operative word, of course.
Today was around 20° in Aix whereas in Newcastle the temperature was around 13°. That's still pretty warm for mid-October and it's putting me off a little bit because by now i'm expecting to have to wear more than one layer at a time. I'd already be searching for a decent pair of winter shoes back home near the bloody Arctic Circle.
I'm interested to see how the French cope with winter...and i'm definitely looking forward to seeing a well-dressed lady fall and slip in her heels. Will she be graceful, or won't she? How do the French deal with falling on their backsides in ice and mud over winter? Me personally? I end up covered head to toe in mud before I've even left the house. It's 3 months of the ability to wear all your clothes at once, be covered in ice and snow and not look like an idiot, and I love that.

But this is France, and as much as I can imagine it getting a wee bit nippy I can't honestly imagine it being the winter wonderland of my dreams :'(

I've mainly talked about the weather in this post, and I didn't even really mean to. I wanted to write about being in limbo between countries and where I feel at home. Whatever. Here's a picture of ice cream that we bought in Aix. IT WAS SO GOOD. Mine's the awesome one with the blue sour sticks and the M&M's and Julien's is the one that looks like a shit in a box.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Without getting too deep and spiritual, venturing into the unknown can be one of the most enriching experiences of your life. Until now I'd never been to Eastern Europe (and never understood the hype) and now I can totally check that off my bucket list...

Croatia really was amazing, I can't stress that enough, and i've probably already stressed that enough to the people who didn't come for the weekend. We've been quite annoying like "omgzzzz getting the Croatia blues guys!" so apologies. We just loved it.

As I said in my previous blog (which you should probably read first if you haven't already) we stayed in a hostel called the Drunken Monkey in Zadar which was just outside of the Old Town. What a great hostel that was, such a good atmosphere....

(some of these photos have been lovingly stolen from the Drunken Monkey hostel website and Facebook etc)

I was a sleepy bastard on the plane there. I hadn't slept in 2 days before getting to Zadar (night before because we woke up at 3am and I am shit at waking up nevermind at 3am...)

On the piss in Zadar

Zadar Old Town....the most interesting architecture and all that.

Krka National Park, many waterfalls round here and excellent swimming!
Me and some of the girls chilling by the waterfalls

Bustling streets in Zadar

Ice cream is like a national hobby in Croatia. Who knew.

That's me (on the right) jumping into the Adriatic Sea

Finally a nice photo of dinner in a restaurant called La Bruschetta.  I had octopus salad and ravioli with truffle sauce. And a carafe of wine. haha sooo good.
Me and Mano went climbing the ancient walls which were round by the port. They're effectively defences against foreign troops and we scaled them, like badasses.

More beautiful waterfalls

The Gentlemen!!!

In Zadar beer is cheaper than water, grapes and chewing gum. I have never known a holiday to be so bizarre. Trying to wade through the mystery of the currency was the hardest bit. A pizza for 40 kuna is actually only 5€ and taking 500 kuna out of the ATM works out to be £ confusing.

But a great time was had. We visited Krka National Park and we even rented out minivans to get there. Clément our French friend actually dived off the top of the waterfalls, which was super scary but fucking awesome.
We experienced Croatian techno bars, amazing night dancing with pole dancers and dancing like madmen with crazy weirdo Croatian men.
Walking around the Old Town we also found the Sea Organ. The sea organ is exactly what it says on the tin; it's an organ which is played by the movement of the water beneath it....and it's extremely bizarre to listen to, but it's so relaxing at the same time.

We went skinny dipping after a drunken night too which was hilarious, and the water was freezing, so running back to the hotel wearing wet clothes and being too naked with friends is definitely something you should try but maybe not on a cold night.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Across the Adriatic.

Tomorrow a lot of us cool folk from Aix-en-Provence are taking a holiday (within a holiday) to Croatia for a very long weekend in Eastern Europe.
I've always wanted to go to Croatia and in fact had plans to go a few years ago with my best friends back in Newcastle. We were going to fly to Paris, Interrail from Paris through France, Germany, Austria and Slovakia then arrive in Croatia and go to a dance/electro festival called Hideout Festival.
Here you can see the quiet little affair down below.

But our plans were cut short because my best friend spent all of her student loan on champagne, casino and fried chicken and Ilhan's Special pizzas (which are the best in Newcastle to be fair brrahhh). It would have been awesome, but I plan on going sometime in  the next few years anyways. Hopefully after I graduate I won't be stuck in such a career rut that I can't just casually jet off to something like that (and/or continue with all my travel plans), like so many people I know...

So I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to do it right now!

We're flying with Ryanair from Marseille to Zadar tomorrow early morning (5th Oct - 6am) with pretty cheap flights. Obviously Ryanair is a massive shit sometimes, but i'm hoping that the plane won't just stop mid-air or something. I'd quite like to live a bit longer thanks Mr Ryan.

Zadar is apparently a lovely city, lots of old architecture and awesome stuff, but i'm just gonna in with a totally open-mind and report back with what I thought. I've never been to Eastern Europe before so the language barrier will be difficult but hopefully I can pick up a few words for 'beer', 'tequila' and 'hangover'!

Either way, I now have my passport back after finally paying my rent and a suitcase nicked from my Frenchman so i'm all ready to go! Hopefully I will wake up early enough tomorrow morning so that I don't miss our bus and then miss the flight and then miss the entire holiday....

By the way, final note: If anyone wants to know which hostel we'll be staying at, it's The Drunken Monkey Hostel in Zadar. Amazing name and it's looks great from what we've seen online. It's 92% rated on Hostelworld so I have high expectations that it's gonna be a chilled out place to crash.
There's a few photos down below which i've stolen from the website!

I'm so fucking excited.