A Weekend in Milan – 08/03/2014 & 09/03/2014

Standard
10007507_699612956728202_1176990126_n

Milan Cathedral

Seeing as the lovely town of Pavia has become my new home for the next few months, it was only fitting that I take a half hour train journey and visit the fashion capital of the world! The main feature of Milan is without doubt the gorgeous cathedral that serves as the centre-point of the city. My housemate insisted that we make the Cathedral our first stop, and looking back I can see why. There is nothing quite like climbing the steps from the underground and coming face to face with this magnificent building! Of course, it definitely helped that the sun was shining and the whole place looked spectacular. For anyone wondering why there is a Despicable Me balloon floating in the corner of the photograph, it is because my housemate and I decided to visit Milan on the same day as ‘La Festa della Donna’ (International Women’s Day), and the square in front of the Cathedral was absolutely jam-packed with people waiting for the festival/parade to begin.

1798321_699612966728201_325558436_nWhen we arrived at the Cathedral we still had a bit of time to kill before the parade started and so I was given a quick tour of everything of interest in the immediate vicinity. I can honestly say that although the Cathedral will always be the most spectacular building in Milan, the galleria definitely made a great 1977435_699613430061488_1844868402_nimpression on me. Home to all those expensive expensive shops that everyone know, and no one can afford to shop at, the galleria made me feel as though I was taking a walk in a rich person’s shoes for a little while. Naturally, being a student 10006960_699613296728168_1772547227_nand honorary tourist, I absolutely could not resist the urge to bring home a collection of photos of all these expensive shops – I couldn’t bare to go home without proof that I’d been within 100 miles of not one, but two Prada stores!!

Once I had gotten over the horrific realisation that it’s entirely possible I will never, ever be able to afford a single item from the majority of the stores in the galleria, it was time to head back to the Cathedral ready to watch the procession of floats come to the end of their parade around the city. There were floats for every kind of organisation and charity imaginable, but the one that really caught my eye and stayed with me right up until today, was the float representing the Italian Red Cross. This particular float was decorated with loads and loads of the Despicable Me minions! I’m1796494_699613743394790_1454979800_n not entirely sure what the connection is between the Red Cross and the Despicable Me, but I know for sure that everyone absolutely loves the minions. In my opinion, the best performances of the afternoon came in the form of several different dance crews, all with different music and different styles… but they were definitely responsible for drawing the crowd and holding everyone’s attention – I mean, who doesn’t love to see beautiful women in gorgeous dresses dancing through the street? And more importantly, I can’t think of many women who wouldn’t appreciate a group of ridiculously handsome, topless guys putting on a dance/martial arts performance!!!

1970927_699614790061352_1217907900_n

The final stop on our tourist’s tour for that first day, was the Formula 1 store. I am not in the least bit ashamed to admit that I got more excited that was strictly necessary when I saw the F1 car sitting on display in the window. I am not an avid racing fan, but I spent a lot of time watching the F1 with my father when I was younger – I will never forget the weekends we spent lounging on the bed and cheering for Michael Schumacher! Though I’m pretty sure that he became my racing idol because in his day he won almost every time… Anyway, the point is that my inner-1982171_699614853394679_632776677_nchild got rather too excited at the prospect of being within touching distance of a real formula 1 Ferrari. I was rather tempted to take a turn sitting in it! However, after watching a fully grown man attempt it and fail miserable because the steering wheel had been altered to remain permanently attached, I decided that I didn’t want to risk making a giant fool of myself. Maybe if I can talk him into it, I shall make a return trip with my father at some point (I seriously doubt it).

The rest of the day was then spent wandering around the main high street, where I spent a ridiculous amount of money on clothes that I probably didn’t need! But really, there was no way I’d be able to explain how I went to the fashion capital of the world and didn’t buy a single thing! Luckily I avoided all of the more expensive stores, and stuck with raiding H&M instead!! My housemate also gave me a guided tours of the ‘posh’ areas of the city. I was expecting to see a ridiculous amount of stores I wouldn’t be able to face entering… and I wasn’t disappointed. I was however, caught off-guard by the amount of luxury cars that we saw in this particular part of town. Now, seeing as it’s the high-class end of town, I really shouldn’t have been surprised! But then again, I can’t say as I’ve ever gone out shopping and thought to myself “I’m sure all the expensive cars will be out in town today” – Though that’s probably because where I’m from barely anybody owns a car worth that much money. I saw a great many wonderful and amazing things that first day in Milan, but I will never, ever forget seeing the Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley logos on about 40% of the cars we passed. The highlight of my day came while we were waiting to cross the road and an Aston Martin DB9 pulled up next to us at the lights! My housemate thought I was being ridiculous, and she had a good laugh at my expense – can’t say I blame her to be quite honest! But still, it’s not every day that you get withing touching distance of those kind of cars.

Day 2 of our weekend in Milan was much shorter because neither of us wanted to drag ourselves our of bed, but we managed to fit in plenty of sight-seeing all the same! The majority of our time was spent wandering around the castle grounds and the gorgeous 1924619_699617016727796_989290261_npublic park that used to serve as its gardens. The castle was magnificent, but the park was something else entirely! It’s the kind of place where you could happily spend all day with your family because it’s perfect for anything and everything; frisbee, reading, a picnic, sunbathing, running around like lunatics, walking the dogs – you name it, it’s probably possible. Considering that it’s in the centre of one of the biggest cities in Europe, it’s easy to believe you’re in the countryside somewhere while you’re wandering around in the park. After our visit to the Castle we made sure to go and see the Arch of Peace at the other end of the gardens, before slowly making our way back to the Cathedral for some much needed gelato!

There is no better way to end a weekend in Milan than with ice-cream!!!!

1780910_699616353394529_1669019316_n      1902087_699616526727845_789965408_n      1526096_699616613394503_1779062142_n      1978612_699616956727802_1800809369_n

1901186_699618203394344_438761596_n

The Castle Fountain

 

1903005_699617836727714_1279785021_n

The Arch of Peace

1962745_699616726727825_1126817746_n

Inside the Castle Grounds

Pavia – The Home of Puppies and Pushchairs!

Standard

5 weeks down the line, I have finally managed to remember to write something down! Time has passed by so quickly here that I didn’t actually realise that it had been quite so long since I’d written anything… So, what’s the most important thing I’ve learnt about life in Italy? It’s that about 90% of the people you see out and about are either walking their dog or pushing a baby around in a buggy! I’ve seen every breed of dog you can possibly imagine – Great Danes, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Old English Sheep Dogs, Terriers… You name it I’ve seen it!! This is clearly a town of dog lovers. Which is really, really lovely actually, except that it makes me realise just how much I miss living with my 4-legged friend in Nantes! It’s so weird to once again be living without a pet in the house – I really hope my housemates go through with buying a kitten like they’ve been planning! I need some kind of animal companion in the apartment. Speaking of my apartment, I should probably expand on what’s happened here over the last few weeks… 

Settling In
Finding somewhere to live actually turned out to be surprisingly easy! I found a notice pinned to the university noticeboard and sent a text inquiring about the room… Within a few hours I’d set up a meeting to view the room (for 2 days later), and 2 days after that I signed the contract before moving in the next day, after dropping my mother off in Milan to catch the plane home – I was so surprised to have somewhere to live and be all moved in less than a week after arriving! Luckily for me, housing has been really easy to sort, both here and in France :)
My housemates are all really lovely… I currently live with 3 Italian girls; although only two are actually here at the moment. The third has moved back home because she’s finished her degree and will be graduating in about 2 weeks time – I shall tell you all about the ceremony! (And of course the after-party too!!!). The girls are lovely – one is doing the Italian equivalent of a masters in Engineering, and the other is a first year Law student; both very, very busy people. They’ve adopted me into the house and we all get on really well. They always make sure to include me in any plans they have and we’ve had meals at their friends’ houses a few times already. 

Compared to my experience in France, the administrative process was also extremely simple! Everything was all sorted within 3 days, and I have been able to just sit back and start enjoying my time here. The only similarity that Pavia University administration has in common with that of the uni in Nantes, is that nobody is ever in the Erasmus office during their office hours. I have been trying for weeks now to get my Certificate of Arrival returned to me so that i can send it back to Cardiff!! Luckily it seems that Pavia University has forward the document for me without letting me know – helpful and yet ridiculously irritating all at the same time.

Since getting here, I have done a fair bit of sight-seeing. Mum and I wandered around the town a lot while she was here, and we spent my birthday trying to find all the main tourist attractions here in town so that I could have a nice set of photos to mark my 21st birthday! 

Image    Image    Image   Image   Image   Image   Image

 

I’ve since done some more wandering on my own, and I also spent a weekend sight-seeing in Milan (which I will write about next!) as I am determined to see more of Italy than I managed to see of France. I have officially found my favourite part of Pavia and I have been known to spend hours and hours there. So where is it? My favourite part of Pavia are the forest trails that run alongside the river for miles and miles. On a sunny day it is amazingly peaceful to just wander along and have time to yourself to think or even just to daydream – which I am known to do more often that is healthy. It’s also a great place to sit, if you can find a picnic bench that’s free, and read; or even start working on ideas for a blog post. I’ve never seen a more gorgeous place, and it’s particularly special to me because it reminds me very much of home at times!

Image  Image  Image

The most exciting news that I have to share so far, is that I have booked a trip to Budapest for the end of May, as a good friend of mine is turning 21 and that is where she would like to spend her birthday! Seeing as I spent a fair few Sundays watching tv with her in her little cell (AKA: Nantes student accomodation), it will be great to see get out and see the world with her for company. I should probably learn a couple of key phrases in Hungarian before I go though! For right now though, I have plenty of work to do with revising for my Mythology exam next week – I have never been so terrified to face an exam before!! Note to any and all Erasmus students that may be reading this: Do yourselves a favour and make wise module choices in your host countries! For instance, Mythology is a rather specialised subject, and not one that I would recommend dipping into for 6 weeks. I know nowhere near enough to be able to pass this exam, but I shall have to do my very best all the same!

So what’s the moral of this month’s update? 
Be careful which module choices you make, because it may come back to bite you later on in the year!!

    

Arrivederci alla Francia e Buongiorno alla Vita Italiana

Standard

After spending 5 lovely weeks at home with my family I have finally set out on second, and final, part of my year abroad. Tomorrow marks the end of my first week in Pavia – and what a crazy week it’s been! 

Pavia is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s just the right size for someone like me who’s used to country life most of the time. The university campus is in the centre of town and pretty much everything is within a ten minute walk from the main campus (including my new apartment). Unfortunately, getting here took a little bit more work than I was expecting! For anyone travelling here from London it couldn’t be easier, but living in Wales meant that I had a very, very long day of travelling – including a 5 and a half hour bus ride to Gatwick airport, a 2 hour plane ride, just over an hour on the bus across Milan, a 30 minute train ride to Pavia, and a 10 minute walk to the apartment with all the cases. I have to say that it was definitely worth it! I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the next 6 months. My mother left this morning, after 6 days here helping me to sort things out. We spent Saturday wandering around town trying to get our bearings, and on Sunday we visit all the tourist ‘attractions’ to celebrate my 21st birthday – the only problem with being Italy for my 21st was that everything is closed on Sundays, but we had a relaxing day all the same. 

More Paperwork
Monday morning was when the real hard work started! First on our list of places to visit was l’Ufficio delle Entrate, where I had to apply for my codice fiscale (which is needed in order to apply for housing, phone contracts, university registration etc.). After hearing stories from other Erasmus students in various parts of Italy I was expecting this to be the hardest part of my stay, but it actually turned out to be ridiculously simple… once you look past the fact that the document the uni sent me for completion is out of date and no longer accepted by the tax office! From here we headed straight to the university to register with the Erasmus office, which also turned out to be a rather simple affair. I had to go on a mad hunt for passport photos (which I’d forgotten to pack – there’s always something!), but other than that everything was sorted out very efficiently. 

With all the bureaucratic jobs behind me it was time to get down to business. Housing was much easier to sort out than I expected! I arrived in Pavia with nowhere to live besides a hotel, and this afternoon I moved into my new student apartment. There are plenty of advertisements to be found on the uni noticeboard; most of them looking for one of two students to fill empty rooms. I contacted the owner of an apartment that was really near to the university, and 2 days later I went to view the apartment. I signed the contract last night, and now I’m sat on the bed in my new room, finally updating my blog. The process really was that simple! Although I did have problems with making the rent payment as I decided to keep my french bank account to use in Italy. International transfers are really awkward as it turns out! So with hindsight I should have closed my french account and opened an italian one instead. I now live with 3 female italian students, which should be great for my language skills! Everyone is being really patient with me so far and I’ve already introduced the whole apartment to welshcakes – they were a big hit!

So far the italian system has given me fewer problems than the french system, but there’s still time for me to discover some hidden issues. Fingers crossed that things will be just as positive next time I sit down to write!

 

 ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Goodbyes, Exams & Leprechauns

Standard

I can’t believe the time has finally come, but this is now officially my last nantais blog entry! As much as I have complained about all things Nantes, I am actually incredibly sad to be leaving!! This last week has really shown me the rollercoaster nature of the year abroad – I was not prepared for this ridiculously strange mix of emotions… Never before have I been eager to go home, reluctant to leave, and terrified of moving on, all at the same time. I’m actually not sure how I feel at this point, besides quite clearly being conflicted! I’ve spent my last week trying in vain to juggle a fun social life, and a serious attitude towards the exams; I’m pretty sure you can guess how that turned out. I ended up doing zero revision for either exam, but I also managed to avoid spending more time and money than necessary in the pub – I’m going to call that a success and just leave it at that I think!!

On the subject of exams, this morning was certainly interesting. 6am today saw me getting up to head to my 7:30 exam… I was most defintely not too pleased when I heard that I was expected to sit an exam at that time in the morning, and I was convinced I’d have very low concentration levels – I mean, I don’t know all that many people these days who can function normally without a hot cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning. But as it happens, Beth and I shared our morning exam with one of our friends/barmen from the pub, and that turned the whole thing into a highly entertaining affair. Our translation contained the word “lutin”, which at home I would normally refer to as a midget. However, that word is not what you’d call politically correct these days, and so it was fun to see what else we came up with instead. Beth’s translation was the least offensive – being the Game of Thrones addict that she is, she chose the word Imp… whereas our Irish friend and myself decided that we wanted to translate it as leprechaun! Furthermore, he has decided that if he finds out that they’ve marked it as incorrect, he’s going to accuse them of being racist against the Irish!!!! My other source of amusement came from the fact that the exam also consisted of an English grammar section (which I obviously didn’t have to do). After finishing my translation I decided to flick through and see what kind of things the other class had been working on… to my absolute delight (I think it may have had something to do with the early hour) I found that they’d included a sentence “I am from a small town in Wales” – I sat there thinking ‘well actually, you’re not… but I sure as hell am’.

For anyone who’s interested, my mother later informed me that the correct term for ‘midget’ these days is “a vertically challenged individual”.

Though I must add that we once again encountered issues with the university’s organisational abilities! Erasmus students weren’t actually registered for the exams, and so they weren’t really sure what to do with us when we started showing up at exams this week! Today was especially interesting – “Oh Erasmus… right ok, well just stand there for now. Once all the people on the list have their seats you can fill the empty spaces” – Part of me still wants to know what they’d have done if every single person had showed up that was supposed to be there!! As it turns out there were plenty of absentees, and so plenty of spare seats; but I shall always wonder “what if” just the same.

I also said the first of my goodbyes this morning. Strangely enough, I recipient of that goodbye happened to be Butch the BU Nantes cat… He’s somewhat of a celebrity around here and he was the first friend I ever made on campus – meaning that on my first afternoon at the uni, he tried to help me eat my baguette! From here on out I’m sure the goodbyes are going to get a lot harder; tonight I say goodbye to the pub, and to all the friends I’ve made there (and I’ll also make sure to buy a shirt as a souvenir too!), and then that leaves saying goodbye to my wonderful French family! I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be a teary-eyed mess by the end of it, but at least that’s proof that I’ve loved my stay even if it was a bit rocky at the beginning.

And now, this is officially the end of the last post I will write from Nantes. Or at least the last one I will ever write as a student of l’université de Nantes! Thanks you very much for all the memories, it’s been fun!!

Christmas Festivities

Standard

After taking a break from writing to properly enjoy my Christmas holidays I’m finally sitting back in front of the computer, trying to remember whether or not I actually did anything worth writing about whilst I was home for the holidays!

I think the best word to describe my Christmas holidays is “wet”… Now I know Wales is pretty much famous for its wet weather, but three weeks straight of non-stop rain must be some kind of record even for us! It’s definitely nice to be back in Nantes, where this afternoon I’ve actually been able to look out the window and see the sun, instead of looking at a solid wall of black clouds. Nothing like a bit of decent weather to put you in a great mood! The worst part about all that terrible weather was that I had to take two ferry journeys in it!! I’m not the most travel-friendly person going – I’m pretty familiar with car sickness and sea sickness before you add dangerous driving conditions and gale-force winds into the equation! I am now sworn off boat travel for at least another 10 years… As far as I’m concerned, if I can’t fly there then it ain’t worth going! I shouldn’t really complain, seeing as my grandparents were kind enough to pay for the crossings, and to come out of their way to pick me up. Of course I’m grateful that they thought to include me… But in future I think I shall pass on the offer, because 16 hrs of travelling by van and boat are definitely not for me!!

I guess the biggest thing that happened over Christmas is that me and my man finally became official. He stayed true to his word and waited for me to get home for Christmas, and then on Christmas day he asked me to be his girlfriend. Was all terribly sweet! Though I still haven’t managed to convince him to renew his passport, so it looks like we’ll be spending the second half of this year apart too! But then again, I’m sure if he’s waited this long then he’ll have no problem waiting another few months (fingers crossed!!). At least it means that he’s over the moon to see me whenever I make it home! The other major thing to happen is that I found my house for next year. Well okay, not me personally because I couldn’t actually make it up to Cardiff… but the other three girls have found us a lovely house for next year. I’m looking forward to moving in at the end of summer… An all-female household is always worth a few laughs! I have a feeling that we’re going to have a great year – which is a good thing considering it will be our final year at Cardiff University. I’m not entirely sure how I got to being half way through my third year, but here I am!

I also had to take a trip to A&E on New Year’s Day thanks to an issue with my contact lenses! What a way to see in the new year!!!!!

And now here I am… back in Nantes for the final stretch of my first term abroad! In 8 days time I will officially be at the end of my time here and I will definitely be sad to leave. It’s been lovely staying here with my adoptive family, and their adorable puppy – Indie and I have been joined at the hip since I arrived, and it’ll be strange to be without my four-legged friend in Italy. I expected to be ridiculously busy over the next few days, mainly because I had the next-to-impossible job of tracking down the year abroad coordinator and convincing him to sign all the outstanding paperwork! As it turns out though, 2014 has already sent a miracle my way – Monsieur Letissier was actually in his office where he’s supposed to be (for a change), when I took a trip to the uni this afternoon… he was also more than happy to sign anything and everything that I passed his way! At least that’s one less job for me to do, and more free time to spend at the bar in the Irish pub!!

Unfortunately, for everything that I manage to get done here, there are ten more things to add to my list of things that I need to do once I get back home! Year Abroad organisation never ends!!!!!!

The Final Countdown…

Standard

… Well I suppose that’s not quite accurate but it feels as though it is! On Saturday, I head home to spend the Christams holidays with my closest friends and family. Somehow this feels like the end of my time in France – in reality I shall be back for two or three weeks in January, but I imagine that that’s going to feel a lot more like a holiday after I’ve had the chance to spend some time at home! Still, at least it’ll give me some time to visit the Irish pub a few more times! My priorities are quite evidently not in the right order, but this close to Christmas I’m not really that bothered… The Christmas spirit has well and truly kicked in – which in the language of students, means that we can most definitely no longer find the energy to go to class. Instead we tend to spend our time getting drunk to Christmas songs, and just generally being jolly!  Oh what it is to be a student…

This last month began with a visit from an old friend; one who is rather famous for being there whenever I’ve gotten myself into trouble in the past. Her time with me here with me  in Nantes didn’t disappoint!! On her first night here we spent almost 5 hours in the pub, before being invited to carry on the night with the barmen. The night ended in a house party with far, far too much wine, and lots of debate over which accent is the most difficult to understand (welsh or irish – feel free to vote!). It’s safe to say that we barely ventured out of bed on the sunday, but when we did it was to head back to the pub for a very British hot chocolate and crisps, and eventually made it across the road to the pizzeria, where they served us the biggest pizzas I have ever seen! I can honestly say that I’m not sure what we did with our monday and tuesday, except that we went back to the pub on both days… What was supposed to be a cultural visit most definitely turned into a drunken girls’ week in! Can’t say I’m the least bit surprised though – we seem to have that effect on each other! What I do remember, is that we spent at least an hour trying to teach various people how to speak a bit of welsh. It ended with one rather drunken off-duty barman telling everyone that he was going to put his “dirty black pig in the microwave” (mochyn du brwnt yn y popty ping (for anyone that cares))- but hey, at least he learnt something right?!?

The rest of the week was spent desperately trying to catch up on university work before happily welcoming the weekend once again. Needless to say that passed by far too quickly for my liking, but at least things are pretty much back to normal now! Or almost back to normal anyway… I mean, I do still have a few more days to go until I leave. That’s plenty of time for something interesting to happen!

In short, this month has so far been drunken and over too quickly! At least I found plenty of positive things to blog about though. Seems a friendly face from home really does help to brighten up your outlook.

La Rochelle

Standard

After a very, very long break, I have finally gotten around to sitting down to add to this blog. All I can say is that I’ve clearly been out living my life, seeing as I haven’t really had any spare time to write any of it down. I’m not sure I’ve actually done anything all that interesting in the last few weeks… And yet here I am, 5 days away from starting my journey home for Christmas! Now that it’s this close I really don’t want to leave the lovely city of Nantes!!! I have to admit that this is mainly due to the fact that I have basically taken up residence at Mc Byrne’s Irish Pub – I now know all of the bar staff by name! – but all the same, it’s going to be a lot more difficult than I originally thought to leave France and begin all over again in Italy.

Before I get too ahead of myself writing about the here and now, I need to jump back about 3 and a half weeks!

Beth and I booked a day trip to the town of La Rochelle to take a wander around and do some sight-seeing. I definitely haven’t done enough of that here, and if I was to do it over again, that would be the thing I’d be mostly likely to change. We spent the Friday night having a couple of drinks in the Irish pub with a few friends of ours, and then we settled in for a reasonably early night (meaning about 2am), ready to get up and catch the train the next morning. What I forgot to tell Beth is that taking a trip anywhere with me is never quite that simple – I am not known for having great time keeping skills… Unfortunately that is probably my greatest flaw! For some unknown reason, I decided that I absolutely had to update my Facebook status before we left. This was before I’d finished drying my hair or doing my make-up! As a consequence we very nearly missed the train, and so the beginning of our trip was made rather stressful thanks to yours truly! I don’t think I have ever seen Beth look anywhere near that murderous!!! Needless to say, I shall never insist on checking my Facebook before taking a trip ever again.

We made it to the train with literally a minute to spare, and then we were on our way to La Rochelle. I can’t tell you much about our journey there, as I’m pretty sure I slept for the majority of it (I don’t do so well with travelling of any kind). We eventually arrived at the train station, and it was absolutely FREEZING cold there! I spent most of the day wishing that I’d decided to wrap up in warmer clothes, but unfortunately I had to make do with what I had. Luckily we still had a great day all the same. Our first stop in La Rochelle was the aquarium. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around inside (where it was warm), and I got far too excited about seeing the shark tank! I think maybe I’ve seen ‘Jaws’ a few too many times… As well as the sharks we got to take a look at all kinds of fish – including piranhas – as well as toroises and turtles.

1480545_651642341525264_1505794970_n7055_651642944858537_1827223971_n1459780_651642498191915_1977622231_n

We finished off our day by eating in a gorgeous restaurant next to the aquarium, before taking a wander around town in an attempt not to hot chocsfreeze to death! Neither of us was able to finish our lunch of Salmon Tagliatelle, despite our best efforts to do so… There was just so much in the bowl and neither of us had room for quite that much rich food! At the end of the meal I ordered a large hot chocolate – and the amazing thing was it actually did come in a proper mug! I’ve gotten so used to seeing little espresso mugs for everything over here, that I was more than surprised to see that a large really did mean a large – and Beth ordered a Vienese hot chocolate! Hers was at least twice the size of mine… clearly she’s gotten the hang of exactly what to order over here! After lunch we made all the required tourist stops until we couldn’t stand the cold any longer! As the sun set we slowly made our way back to the train station, where we sat for 2 and a half hours in the warm for our train to arrive. For some strange reason I decided that a French copy of the latest Assissin’s Creed book would be a good choice of reading material for the train ride back to Nantes… needless to say what actually happened is that I read 2 pages and then fell asleep for the entire ride.

All in all it was a good day, very well spent! We eventually crawled back into Beth’s little cell of a university room at about 11pm after quickly stopping for something to eat. We were asleep pretty much instantly, and when we finally resurfaced at about lunch time the next morning, we decided that the most productive use of our time would be to cuddle up together under a pile of blankets and spend the whole day watching True Blood! I believe we had a trully British sunday that weekend!

It’s Funny How Things Can Change

Standard

It’s weird to think how spending a large amount of time away from home really can change you!

I can still clearly remember how terrified I was about coming to France… I didn’t want to leave my family and friends or my job, and I definitely didn’t want to fly across Europe to live in a country with a different language and a different culture! It’s not very often that we get to feel entirely out of our depth in our own country; and even if we do, at least you can still communicate with other people and work things out relatively simply from there – it’s an entirely different ball game when you’re also struggling to make yourself understood! My first 2 weeks here were pretty damn terrifying, and passed my in a blur of keeping my head above water. And I’ll be honest, I did start to wonder about the mental state of those people that decide to up and move to another country!

And now here I am, 3 months later; with only 4 weeks left until the Christmas holidays.

Things are completely different. Or rather, they are exactly the same, just reversed! The closer I get to going home, the more stressed out about it I become. I’ve been in France just long enough now that it’s starting to feel as though I’ve never been anywhere else! The French way of living has become what I know, and going back to the UK seems like a scary prospect – what if things have changed?, what if people are different?, what if I feel really out of place? – all of these are questions that have being going through my mind over the last few weeks. Some days I even feel as though I don’t want to go home… It’s definitely weird to think of your own country, as a foreign and scary place! But that is the only way to describe it. Realistically I know that once I get home, it’ll be as though I never left… but going home is actually going to be a lot harder than I ever imagined. A month ago I would have jumped at a chance to get on a plane and head home, but now I’d probably find some excuse that it would be better if I stayed put. It’s so strange to find myself with such a drastic change of attitude… But at the same time it’s a positive feeling, as it means I’ve found my own little rhythm here in France. After a rather long time I am finally completely settled…

… It’s just a shame that it’s happened quite so close to the end of my time here!

Half Term Shenanigans: 25/10/13 – 03/11/13

Standard

Time to take a trip back in time now… I’m not sure my memory is good enough to remember absolutely everything I did a couple of weeks ago, but I’m sure most of the important things are still there!

My half-term actually started on Thursday 24th October, because I luckily managed to swing it so that I have no classes after Wednesday – and that Wednesday also happened to be the official halfway point for the French half of my year abroad!!

cinema

I think those first few days of holidays were the busiest days that I have had in Nantes so far!! The excitement began on Friday when I got invited to a pre-screening of ‘Blood Ties’. This is yet another case of my adoptive Erasmus family finding me fun things to do!! The daughter of one of Laurence’s work colleagues had won 2 places to the screening and had nobody to fo with… I was volunteered to fill up the space, and I quite happily accepted; proof of the film fanatic in me! We spent a lovely evening at the cinema and the two of us discovered that we actually get on really well and would love to spend more time together in future. The highlight of the evening was the guest appearance by Guillaume Canet – the first and only time I shall find myself in the same room as a film director!!

Saturday night it was time for the Nickelback concert!!!!! That came around awfully quick… Me and the girls spent a great night jumping around to great music, and I would thoroughly recommend going to see Nickelback perform live if you can! The strangest part about the night was getting to see so many completely different people all in the same place together, and all getting along too! There were the three of us – your typical British students – then there were the middle-aged French biker men in leathers and big boots, the heavy rock/head bangers, and the incredibly soppy couples… I would say that this night definitely counts as a cultural experience!

My monday was taken up by shopping (as is becoming an expensive hobby of mine!), I took the tram up to Marcel Paul, the end of line 3 – which is actually when it occurred to me just how long the tram lines actually are… 17 stops is definitely not a short distance for someone like me who doesn’t travel well – and I met my adoptive french mother for lunch on her lunch break. We went to a lovely little place in the shopping centre for lunch (can you see where the shopping comes in yet?), and we had a really nice lunch, especially the pudding! After that Laurence went back to work, and I decided to take a wander around the shopping centre to see what shops I could find … Needless to say I found plenty of stuff that I just “had to have” and I came home with a lot less in my bank account. It was definitely a day well spent though!

DSCF0771

Seeing as I was unfortunately unable to make it home for the week due to cost of flights and the limited number of flights available from France in the winter, I talked my grandparents into making the two and a half hour drive up to Nantes to see me for a few days. We had great fun exploring as much of the city as possible in the two days they were here (Tuesday and Wednesday)!! In my aim to show them all the interesting things in Nantes I think I actually saw more of the city those two days, than I have in my entire 2 and a half months here… I definitely think that you make a lot more effort to explore once you have someone to share the experience with. I dragged them all over the city and to their credit, they didn’t complain once! Our first stop bizzarely ended up being the Fnac, followed by the fountain at the Place Royale, and St. Nicolas’ Church. I then took them for a tram ride down to the Île de Versailles, which is a public garden based on a Japanese design – it is also stunningly beautiful!! We spent a good portion of our afternoon yesterday wandering around the garden and playing on the stepping stones. After this, I decided I most definitely had to take them on a tour around the castle ramparts… and so I took my second trip to the Château du Duc de Bretagne; only this time I insisted on taking photographs of my grandparents instead of myself. In fact, my grandad told me that he has never had so many photos taken!! – I might have gotten slightly carried away. Once they had successfully tackled the stairs at the castle, we finished our day at Le Jardin des Plantes, which was a gorgeous place to take a walk in the sunshine!! I think it’s safe to say that we managed to pack a lot into our first day of sightseeing.

The next day we carried on where we left off and I took them across to the Île de Nantes to visit the elephant and the carousel, before we finished our afternoon at the Beaulieu shopping centre, with a performance by the camel (the elephant’s smaller cousin).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   DSCF0780  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

welshcakesI finished off my half-term with my grandparents in the French countryside, where I decided to try making welshcakes for the first time in my life… It’s rather typical that Iwould decide this once I got to France where there is absolutely no such thing as self-raising flour! After a few slight complications (such as the oven/stove running out of gas) I finally made my first batch of welshcakes… I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself for that one! Though I probably shouldn’t have eaten quite so many of them myself!! The night after I made welshcakes my grandparents had some friends round for dinner (Carlos who’s French, and Julie his English partner), and for pudding I thought it would be a good idea to get them to try my welshcakes… they were thankfully a big hit! Especially with Carlos, who in typical French style, broke them into quarters and then proceeded to dunk them into his my of hot chocolate. Now for anyone that doesn’t get this reference, I should probably tell you that in France it is very common to see French people (usually men) sitting outside cafés at about 10 am, dunking a croissant into a mug of hot chocolate. I have seen it a lot in Nantes, and it was rather entertaining to see a French countryman doing the exact same thing with my welshcakes!

This pretty much concludes the tales of my half-term… despite the title, I can’t really say that I got up to any real shenanigans (I think the laid back French attitude has seeped into me). However, I did have a really lovely week… and I also booked my trip home. I shall be returning to the UK on 14th December, ready to have a much needed catch up with friends and family.

Where Does the Time Go?!

Standard

It’s been so long since I’ve written anything now that I don’t actually know where to start! – I think maybe the best thing I can do is write about the here and now, and then back track to catch everyone up on what’s happened over the last few weeks, otherwise I will constantly be a few weeks behind. I will eventually get around to writing about how I spent my half-term holidays I promise…

So, we’re now in November! Anyone else have absolutely no idea how that happened? I still remember the day I arrived as though it was yesterday – that was in fact August 27th. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve been doing with my time… but apparently I haven’t been doing much at all! I’ll be heading home before I know it (in just over 5 weeks in fact), and I have to admit that I probably haven’t made the most of this experience like I should have. On the other hand, I have actually seriously improved my French, so I guess I’ve achieved the main aim for my time in France. And as much as I am now looking forward to coming home for Christmas, I can honestly say that I’ve also had a great time out here! – even with suffering from homesickness for the first time in my life.

Which brings me to this week… This week has been pretty rough, but I think that’s had more to do with my attitude than with the week itself. I spent part of my week off last week back at my grandparents’ house; in the middle of nowhere. It was nice to have a change of scenery and spend some time with family, but it also meant that city life was all a bit of a shock for me again on monday. I know how ridiculous that sounds seeing as I’ve spent the last 2 years of my life living in the Capital City of Wales (good old Cardiff!), but that really is what happened. I spent Monday holed up in the house and didn’t go to a single one of my 6 classes, because I just couldn’t face the outside world – And also, more importantly, because I had an essay on Romeo and Juliette to write by Tuesday afternoon…

Technological Disaster

Tuesday brought with it more problems of its own… I finished my essay, and then suffered endless problems whilst trying to print it! – My laptop has decided that the opportune moment for it to start dying is when I’m away in a different country. Over the last few weeks my laptop has slowly been systematically shutting down on me… First the charger stopped working unless it’s plugged in at a specific angle, then the internet became so slow that I may as well by running on a dial-up connection at times, and occasionally it refuses to shut down or restart! Now, I could happily live with all those things until I get home for Christmas, but Tuesday brought with it a new problem – My laptop has apparently decided that I no longer need the use of USB ports… This new development meant that I had a very difficult time of printing my essay. I finally found a solution to my dilema – thank god for e-mail! – only for the printer to run out of ink half way through printing. After almost 2 hours of effort, I decided to just e-mail my work to my lecturer and pray that she had a printer. I’m not entirely sure she believed me when I told her that “mon ordinateur et l’imprimante sont tous les deux tombés en panne”. 

The rest of the week has thankfully been pretty uneventful. I was once again feeling a bit sorry for myself yesterday morning, but by the time I made it home from FLE at 8pm I was feeling much more like myself! I’m pretty sure this miraculously change in mood was caused by 2 things… #1 seeing my lovely hodge podge group of international friends – especially Philipe, who apparently missed my very much on Monday night. We have our own little routine going at this point; we take the tram half way home, and then I walk with him to the castle (he once told me he lives so close to the castle that he might as well live IN it), and get back on the tram for the last part of the journey home. #2 by the fact that a new french friend of mine went on holiday last week and was clearly thinking of me while she was gone – this week I have been presented with a box of biscuits and a postcard from Belle-Ile-en-Mer… The postcard was very sweetly written to me in english and the pure thoughtfulness of the gesture definitely helped to lift my spirits again.

Attack of the Paperwork

Today I finally decided to bite the bullet and start working on my application for l’Università degli Studi di Pavia, so that it’s not left until the last minute. It’s safe to say that I was dreading this task because my application to the Université de Nantes was anything but simple! – They wanted a CV, a letter of motivation, the application, proof of study at Cardiff, proof of proviciency in French, a learning agreement, and a passport photo – All Pavia University wants is the application, the accommodation form, the learning agreement, and the application for italian evening classes. Although it was a time-consuming process, it has already proven to be far simpler than applying to France. Unfortunately my work is not yet done! I’ve finished all the electronic sections, and now need to print certain documents and send them off to Cardiff for signing…

Which probably means that the effortless part is about to come to an end!!!!

After a stangely productive day I feel a lot more motivated, and after a few days of weirdness I am settled back into French city life! It also helps that a friend of mine is taking some time out from her time in Geneva to come and visit me for a few days at the end of the month.That should nicely break up the time between now and my journey home. I imagine that the next few weeks are going to be a blur of exams and Pavia organisation! Won’t be long now and I shall be saying goodbye to my French home and my French family – though I am very tempted to smuggle Indie the puppy home with me.

Time to draw a line under a very strange week, and start all over again on Tuesday – Got to love France’s love for “jours fériés“, roll on bank holiday Monday!!