Friday, 11 March 2011

Unexpected trip to the UK; ups and downs.

So, I was supposed to go to visit my aunt in Torino, Italy, but for reasons I'm not going into here that fell through. I was incredibly disappointed not to be able to go, and then it hit me that I had no money to go anywhere else for the week's break, because it was initially my uncle who paid for the train tickets, or else I wouldn't have been able to go at all. I got so unbelievably sad at the though of being stuck in France for the whole week on my own, while all my other international friends were already away on trips they'd had  planned for weeks. I was on Skype to Tim, and he suggested I come to London as his parents live about an hour away. Once I'd got the idea into my head that I was going to be seeing Tim I just couldn't get it out of my head. I had to borrow money from my parents (again..) to pay for the travel, and it was very expensive as I had to book it right at the last minute, having had next to no notice about Italy falling through I could only get a refund on the return tickets, which went back into my uncle's account. If I'd have known even a few weeks in advance I probably could have done the journey for around 100-150 euros, as it is I think I spent about 230 euros on my tickets, which was expensive, but I considered it the only option I had. I booked the tickets as soon as I could and travelled on Tuesday (up at 6am), arriving around lunchtime in St Pancras.

Tim took me for a wonderful lunch at Tas Pide, a Turkish restaurant specialising in their equivalent of pizza (pide, pronounced pea-duh). It was delicious. Being the indecisive person I am, and being confronted with more than one vegetarian option, I went for the lunch menu as it saved a lot of time and I was hungry by this point. Tim had a pide too, but his was slightly different to mine. Before we'd even ordered food, we we brought complementary soup, with freshly baked, warm bread, and olives. Tim remarked we could have just said oh thanks very much, paid for the drinks, and left with a free lunch, but we didn't. The food arrived, it was beautiful. My pizza had peppers, onions, tomatoes... loads on it, and Tim's had tiny cubes of cheese all over it and was slightly curry/spicey-y. We'd ordered a side of chips and we got given free sides too so were feeling very stuffed by the time the pudding came: an apricot stuffed with cream stuff and sprinkled with nuts. It was delicious but  a bit too rich after the feast we'd had! We paid, and waddled out back into London. I could hardly move!

Then we got a bus back to Tim's parents' house, near Oxford, which took about 1h30 and we fell asleep together.
We had some soup which Tim's lovely mum had made for us, then headed for an early night.

Wednesday I didn't really do much, Tim got up and tried to wake me and tempt me with the thought of warm pain au chocolats for breakfast, I vaguely remember it but apparently he said 'there's pain au chocolat for breakfast if you want it' and I said 'mm, good' and then fell straight back to sleep! I had obviously needed the rest. Wednesday afternoon we drove up to Newcastle, nothing much to report there. We did some food shopping on the way back and I can't tell you how excited I was to be putting Quorn burgers, pies and veggie sausage rolls into the basket!

Thursday we got up early, had breakfast, then went ice skating together! It was lovely, I was much better than I thought I would be, and than I was last time, maybe because there were only 10 people on the ice so I had space to practice without being scared of being killed/knocking into anyone. Tim is an ex ice-hockey player so he showed me up a bit, but I didn't fall over. I did a serious wobble into his arms but nothing too crazy! By the end we were having mini races, although I'm sure he was slowing down considerably for me, because when there was only us left on the ice at the end, he did a few speedy laps while I watched, and then told me that he was out of practice and that was slow!

I took some soppy pics to remember the day by as it was so lovely. We're hopefully going to go a bit more regularly once I'm back in the UK!

Thursday night Tim had band practice so I caught up on some UK TV on my laptop in the bath.

Friday I met up with some girls from Newcastle who are coming to Angers in September, they asked some questions and I told them some stuff so they could feel a bit more prepared. I wish I'd have talked to someone like that earlier, it might have saved me a lot of stress last year!
Friday evening we (me, Tim, James from his band and his wife Anila) went to my favourite vegetarian cafe/restaurant, Sky Apple Cafe in Heaton. Oh my, it was good. For starters, me and Tim shared the sweet potato gnocci, then he had the mushroom wellington, and I had a tostada... you'll have to look on the website coz I can't describe how amazing it was! Again we were stuffed but I love it SO much in there.
Afterwards we met up with Joey and Emma, my ex-flatmate and her friend, which was great, to be able to see them again at such short notice! We only had one drink then said bye as the girls we feeling a little fragile after the night before, and Tim had a very long day ahead of him so we needed an early night.

Saturday was spent packing, and travelling. We collapsed into bed and had to get up at 6am. Oh, and I managed to smash a pot of pot pourri before bedtime. Oops. When I'm tired my eyes don't work together and my peripheral vision is awful!
Sunday, up at 6. Haul selves out of bed with no time for breakfast, Tim's mum drives us to the bus stop to get into London. Sleep on bus. Arrive in London around 8.30, around 2 hours before my train leaves. Get tube to right station, have a sleepy, expensive breakfast in Pret while taking pictures of Tim to use as my phone background. Buy another sandwich for lunch on the train, have cuddles with Tim then say bye to him. No tears this time, although I do get a bit choked up when I can't see him anymore. I think it gets easier the more I do it.
I even managed to do Paris Metro on my own with no hassle, which used to terrify me. I arrived at my station with over an hour to spare, so sat quietly snoozing and watching the world go by. My train is called, I go to the platform and get on the carriage. I couldn't find my seat for ages, the train was jam packed and it turns out our seats were through the bar area, I had to kick a guy out of my seat and there were people trying to sleep standing up in the bar. Crazy. I was so glad to be back in Angers.

I tried to work on Sunday night, really I did, but I was exhausted and not in the mood for learning. I was thrown right back in at the deep end on Monday, in from 9am-6pm, with only 1h15 break and an exam in the morning.
Tuesday I was so tired my eyes were point blank refusing to co-operate, both with me and with each other, and dealing with double vision, and coursework and lessons just didn't appeal. I had got myself up at 8am, went for a nap at 11am when I realised productivity was not working, then got up again at 1pm, missed all my lessons trying to get this coursework done, only to find out it was for Saturday. D'oh!


Not much to report other than that. I'm really feeling the financial strain this term though, having gone a bit crazy last term. I'm almost £800 into my £1000 overdraft, and after next month's rent I'm not sure I'm going to have enough to live on. I've set myself a budget which I'm going to stick to, but I'm feeling very stuck because I don't feel I can go out on day trips because I have no money to, and I don't like going out in the evening because the night buses stop fairly early and I don't feel comfortable walking back home on my own sober, let alone after a couple of drinks.
I'll have to borrow money from my parents next month, which makes me feel sick because I've spent all the student loan plus a lot of their money already. I've put adverts up for babysitting or English lessons today, so hopefully something will come out of that. I'm also volunteering at the English Library next Friday, running a conversation group in English with 5 15-18 year olds, so looking forward to that.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Etre Francaise // To be French.

So, I was thinking to myself whilst walking through town (with a baguette, naturellement), just what is it to be French? Qu'est ce qu'un francais?

It's all very well sitting in a classroom, learning grammar rules off by heart, memorising conjugations, tenses and moods, and phrases for essays, but it's a completely different thing to be French. Learning a language is one thing, learning a culture... no, not learning, learning to integrate into a different culture... well, that's something else!
In the UK, to be honest, my French lessons were starting to bore me. Endless grammar rules, exercises and presentations on fixed themes? No thank you. What I really love about studying French, what made me chose to take it at University level, is the language. The language that is spoken in France, that is constantly evolving, flowing, changing. Languages are alive. Languages are not just in textbooks. Languages are interaction, language is communication, but language is so much more than that. Language is power. With languages, you can get your message across to millions of people who speak differently, who write differently and who's culture is totally different, yet deep down, inside, we're all the same. Language connects people across the world and encourages exchanges of culture, of knowledge. Pidgin languages are languages created for people to communicate when their languages are different. Syntax and vocabulary are spliced together in an attempt just to communicate, to get your point across. Pidgins came from trading colonies mostly, and some have evolved into fully-fledged languages (Creoles) as a by-product.
So, this proves that we all have a desire, no, a need to communicate, and be understood. Languages are so powerful. If you have language skills, bloody well use them! Find someone who speaks that language, go for coffee with them and exchange stories, cultures, differences... you will learn some incredible things. Languages bridge the gap between people who live on the other side of the world. Languages are incredible.

When you learn a language, yes, you're learning words, and structures, and grammar, but it's so much more than that, to fully understand the subtle nuances of a language, you really, undoubtedly have to know the culture and the setting in which certain words or phrases are or are not used. Translation of just words is no good (see any on-line translating machine for proof of this), you need to have an in-depth cultural knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge to really be a good, and accurate translator.
I was bored studying French at Uni back home, I'll admit it, but here... oh my goodness. Here I am revelling in the glory of things that seemed so utterly tedious back home. Subjunctives are almost natural to me now, just from hearing them so often, on the bus on the way home I'll be thinking of how to tell my host family about my day, comparing uses of tense and mood, practising my conjugations and generally running a million things through my head. Basically, I'm living French, living and breathing it, rather than just studying it from a textbook. I've made it come alive, and languages work so much better like that. Languages are interactive. There's only so much you can learn from a textbook. France has re-ignited my passion for languages, and for French, and France, so much so that I really don't want to leave in May.

That said, I'm not saying that I don't miss home, my friends, family and wonderful Timmy more than I can even put into words... but it actually gets easier the longer I spend here, because I'm feeling so much more at home here than I did when I first arrived. My French has drastically improved, especially my spoken French, just from being totally immersed in it. It will be coming back with a bump when I return to the UK, I actually felt rude speaking English when I arrived back in the UK for Christmas, I'd been so used to speaking French all the time that it just didn't feel right.

A very rambly ramble, for which I apologise, but I'm not apologising for my linguist-geekery, because that can only be a good thing for a degree in Linguistics with French ;)

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Apologies and updates

I know, I know. I'll try harder from now on, I promise! I've seen so many people's blogs, from Angers, France and around the world that have made me so enthused about blog-writing again, and so ashamed for neglecting mine so much! If I had to come up with an excuse, I guess it would be that I'm so settled in now that I don't feel there's anything needs saying, it's all become 'normal' and 'everyday' for me, but not in a boring way! I just feel totally at home here, totally immersed in the language and the culture and just generally being French.

So, what have I been doing with myself all this time I hear you ask?

Well, we went to the patinoire (ice rink) a couple of weekends ago, it took me a while before I found my ice legs (?) again, and had the confidence to stop inching around the edge, always within a metre of the barrier just in case. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I was slowly remembering how not to fall over and wobble so much, and getting the hang of gliding, one foot after the other, gently shifting my weight with each 'step'. After a while, I was setting myself new challenges: make it for one lap without wobbling, falling over or stopping; go through the middle without getting killed; try to do the wavy foot thing (I'm sure there is a technical term for this, it's just another way of going forwards). Then we all took a break for drinks and to rest our feet (the hire skates were killing my ankles and the arch of my foot!), then back onto the ice for a final hour, where I got a bit overconfident, got up a bit of speed, and then overbalanced, wobbled a lot and landed on my derriere. Very elegant. It didn't help that there were some brilliant skaters there, as there always will be I guess. There were a couple of guys in the middle of the rink doing breakdancing, properly standing on their hands and doing jumps and spinning on the floor and everything. I was so mesmerised I nearly fell over a second time!
It was a good day out, my ankles and legs and bum hurt the next day though!

Other than that, I can't think of much to report, I've mostly been occupying my time with trying to sort out this term's timetable, and I think I've finally got it sorted! Monday and Tuesday are crazy busy for me, Monday I have lessons from 10.30am until 6pm with only 1h15 break, and Tuesday I have lessons from 12.30 until 7.30pm so I don't get home until 8.30 or 9pm, by which time I am starving, but then I only have one lesson on Wednesday, one on Thursday and none on Friday, so not too bad!

I'm taking all of the CUFCO classes I did last term, so culture, conversation and French language, plus the others I've chosen, which are 2 translation classes (one French to English, one English to French), a History of Art class, and two classes with my favourite teacher, Monsieur Levy. One is about art, cinema and culture, the other one is more general discussion about the news. I have extra work to do for his classes to, to make the 2 credits into 3, so I'm excited about that!

I have some very exciting news to report.

I have been wanting to visit my Auntie in Torino, Italy, for ages now, but after having overspent by a very long way last term, I really just couldn't afford it. I was talking to my Uncle (my dad's and auntie's brother) on Skype the other night, and he said he would treat me to the train tickets! I am SO excited. It's all booked, I leave at about 8am on Friday morning, and arrive in Torino at 17h30, so a long day of travelling, but it will be worth it. I'll spend the weekend with my Aunt, then my train leaves at 8am on Tuesday and arrives about 17h in Angers. I'll make sure to take my camera with me and do a blog post!

A plus!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Semestre 2, le premier semaine.

Goodness, I can't even tell you how daunting it is to come back to a completely blank page. I can only apologise profusely for the distinct lack of updates over here, but things got a bit hectic towards the end of the year...

I'll start with where we left off, and try and do things in chronological order so as to avoid more confusion!

Let's start at the beginning, eh? :)

I went to Cologne, Germany, for the Christmas markets, which were absolutely wonderful. I shall now steal some pictures from my wonderful Canadian friend, Andrea, as she took lots more that I did.

We drank lots of Gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and lots of yummy food was on offer, as well as all the market stalls. I had a very good weekend, if a bit tiring because we had to get two overnight buses...

A little kiddie helping wrap a chocolate santa at the Schocoladenmuseum! So cute.

So that was Cologne.

The next significant thing that happened was that Tim came to visit me. Bit of a drama when he arrived though, as his flight was delayed because of the snow so he miss his train to Angers and I had to go and meet him in Paris. The airline had put him up in a hotel, and to cut a long story short, we did manage to get a free hotel room together, but the taxi to get there cost about 75 euros, which is why I detest Paris so much.

We eventually got back to Angers and had lunch in my favourite café/bakery, then went back home.
The rest of the week is a bit of a blur, because what was meant to be a lovely romantic week in France turned into a disaster. Tim got ill, we took him to the doctor's and he'd got bronchitis and pneumonia, so he was put on some industrial strength painkillers and antiBs. The rest of the week for him was spent in a hot fever, in bed sweating and feeling sick and in a lot of pain. Poor thing. I looked after him and even bought him Chicken Soup! I haven't bought meat in a very long time but I was desperate for him to eat something, anything! I was getting drained looking after him all the time and frustrated with not being able to go out, and then I fell ill too, which was inevitable really. I was worried because of my asthma, so went straight to the doctors and got some painkillers and antibiotics as well, and then spent the rest of the week in bed feeling sorry for ourselves, only getting up to fetch more satsumas or blearily wander to the bathroom and back again. Pretty grim.

I was sad I didn't get to see any of my international friends in my last week there before Christmas, but not much could be done about it really. We managed to get our flight home and then just collapsed into bed and didn't get up before the afternoon the next day.

Tim is fine now, he has some leftover tissue damage which should heal itself, he has to go for another X ray in a week or so just to make sure everything's as it should be.

So. Rather eventful few weeks before Christmas!
My Christmas was lovely, Tim was at my parents' for it, and we went to church and had a good singsong in the morning, and Tim got mistaken for my brother by an old family friend, which was amusing! Then we had a giant Christmas dinner, I had a Higgidy goats cheese pie thing which was yummy, then we had Christmas Pud and in the afternoon went for a wintery walk in the snow.
On Boxing Day Tim drove us up to Newcastle and then we had a second Christmas with Tim's parents, which was lovely. I met up with some of my Uni friends, though not enough as I need to be better organised next time! I went for drinks with Joey and Dhanisha and then went to a Birthday/New Year's Eve party where I had a really good time!

I was very sad to come back, I didn't want to leave my friends and family and wonderful boyfriend but I'm very glad to be back too. Now comes the joy of choosing classes again... so stressful.

I might also venture to Turin, Italy this term to visit my aunt who's teaching there, which will be a first for me as I've never been to Italy before!

Anyway, I have a lot of things to do, so, a bientot!