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, Croatia.....so 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 me.....at 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 £55...so 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.