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.