Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Alsacien aMusement

Well well well... despite it being a mere 13 days or so since that last post, I feel that this last two weeks has been quite significant. Firstly, I have recognised the symptoms of my very own banking crisis, quite similar to Ireland in 2008. Scratch that, more like Greece. I'm in the process of searching for a student version of the IMF but no luck so far. Unfortunately unlike Greece, blatantly lying is not an option, neither is defaulting...faking my death could work however. I'll keep you updated. The next post may reach you all from the Cayman Islands or somewhere.

Another significant event is my discovery of a lovely new city in the form of Strasbourg. I made the 5 hour train journey up on Tueday evening (during which I got quite a bit of study done, I'd like to add, so critics, consider yourselves momentarily silenced...even if ultimately you are completely justified) and the trek via Lyon went without much difficulty. I do have the enviable ability to sleep where and when I like, so that shortened the journey somewhat, even if my neck doesn't tend to thank me afterwards. So I arrived at the gare at approximately 23.37. Yes, approximately. I'm aware that my usage of that word is questionable. It was also pointed out to me recently that calling things "very fun" is not considered wonderful by English language enthusiasts, so I'll try my best to avoid that if I can, as I do be doing that a lot. To avoid any wild tangents, back to the gare. I met my brother and then took the tram to the very Germanic sounding suburb of Ilkirch Graffenstaden. He has a similar fondness for free transport where possible, and he assured me that it was night time and that the bad tram people had gone to bed. In Gcchhuunoblhh however, they are of a different kind. They never sleep.

The following morning, my brother had a very complicated sounding exam, however afterwards I joined him and got a little tour of the Space University. It's impressive, even if I don't understand 99.99999% of the discussions taking case you were wondering, it's all in English. Just a dialect utterly unfamiliar to the everyday Arts student. We then ventured into the centre ville and wandered the Christmas markets, which really were something else...the massive cathedral is considerably larger than your average massive building too, and as such, was extremely photogenic. Evening approached, which could only mean one thing. Time to make the trip out to the very west of the city for the reason I had come all the way from my lovely mountainous haven I currently call home. MUSE.

We got there in good time, getting a decent view of the stage, and after a considerable wait, the supporting act came on. They weren't bad at all, but the awkward part was that they never told us what their name was. Around 12,000 French people to plug your music to and you forget to tell them your name. Fail of the week.
But, nearly an hour later, this happened:

and then, all this:

Needless to say, it was 2 of the best hours of my life. And, having bought a poster from a less than legitimate salesman outside the venue, my life was complete.
The next day was another story.

After roughly an hour and a half sleep, I was woken at 5.30, as my brother had a train to catch, meaning that I would spend most of the day tout seul in Strasbourg. We made it as far as the tram stop, before I realised I had forgotten my phone. He gave me his key and I dashed back as fast as the icy morning breeze could take me, telling him not to wait and that I could catch up if necessary with the key. Alas, he had left, and so began an epic James Bond style 6.30 in the morning dramatic dash to the station, just with a few less guns, explosions and obstacles to jump over. I made it to the platform, gasping for breath, but just as the train pulled away... which turned my Bond-like adventure suddenly into a romantic tragedy.. with admittedly less handkerchief waving and wails of despair on Matthew's part.

In my inconsolable grief, I promptly took a nap in the station, before venturing out into unknown Strasbourgeois territory on my own. I spent a very fun (sorry, it was inevitable) and cultural day in the markets, stopping at regular intervals to fully exploit the free WiFi at the local supermarket, and generally having a nice time. My Covoiturage car-sharing guy that I had reserved messed me around a little time-wise, changing the location and time to 18.30 instead of an hour earlier. 
After briefly seeing the European Parliament HQ, I turned up as one does, on time, at the designated tram stop. At 18.37 I popped him a text, saying that I was here with detailed coordinates etc, a gentle reminder that it was kinda cold and wet. At 19h, still without a reply, I was a teeny bit annoyed, so I sent him a very demanding "where are you" message. No answer, and at 19h15 or so, I told him that I'd been waiting over half an hour etc and vented my frustration a bit. I might add by this point I was thoroughly soaked and the word 'exhausted' would be an understatement. He eventually replied about 20 minutes later saying that they would be there in 30 which I thought to myself "ah here", or in the spirit of that hilarious Dublin woman "aaah heeyyoohhh!!". 
I decided to head to the station to see if there were any trains going back at that hour. There were not, and so thanks to a sudden brainwave, despite my frustration, I decided to use the key that was still in my possession by a stroke of unbelievable good fortune, and make the trek back to the apartment to stay the night. I've since given the driver a BAD review, which are a big deal in the covoiturage world, so there.. that showed him.

So I then got the very expensive 9am train back to Gcchhuunoblhh, but by then I cared little for anything except getting back to the comfort of my 12m2 down south. Ok, 'comfort' may be pushing it, but it's home!
And thus ended my time in what I have begun to call Stressbourg.

The next 24 hours were a sigificant development in their own way as I became fully aware of the difficulties associated with having zero Christmas shopping done on the 21st of December. And the Ancient Mayans weren't too cooperative either on the day, was hoping to get away with it. Once I had helped a friend pack and go on her way, I was pretty much the only person left in the Résidence. I didn't have too long to wait though, as I made my way to Gcchhuunoblhh airport (which is almost closer to Lyon, poorly named really) on the Saturday afternoon. Ryanair did their utmost to ensure we felt like cattle at feeding time, and about 2 and a half hours later, we touched down in the Emerald Isle. I've never been happier to see the word "Fáilte" in my life, (the ridiculous Irish translations e.g bagáiste didn't even annoy me) and it wasn't long before I was in the car, reunited with my family, recounting my recent harrowing experiences to a new audience.

It wasn't long before I got into the swing of life back at home again, and it was great to see everyone. Last minute shopping was done on Sunday (Yes. Sunday. France, watch and learn please) and I eventually got everything sorted before the big day. Christmas eve and Christmas day were special, as always, started off by some amazing choir singing in the Pro Cathedral. Santa was also very generous this year, as were the portions of delicious Christmas dinner which made the flight home and every less-than-good experience I've ever had completely worth it.
I'll be back in Gcchhuunoblhh on the 4th of January, before which I have a busy schedule of socialising, sleeping, eating, and some might say studying...yeeaaah I should really get around to that soon.
The last 4 months of 2012 have without doubt been the highlight of my year, and here's hoping the first half of 2013 will bring just as much fun and enjoyment !!

Joyeux Noel et bonnes fêtes à tous !
Bisous :)

PS: Here are a few photos from Strasbourg.. I forgot to add that their tram-stop-announcing is hilarious on the tram, as they have not only a different voice doing each one, but sometimes in really funny voices. One guy even started singing. Genius. Really lightens the mood on the long commute. :)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

In The Not-So-Bleak Mid-Winter...

This page has been suffering from a severe case of abandonment of late, and I now plan to change that. This last few weeks has been very eventful to say the least, with excursions, exams, severe yet hilarious problems, but most importantly, much enjoyment being had.

Since the last instalment, my Gcchuunnoblhh life has continued on its path of awesomeness, despite the odd roadblock and their efforts to guide said life off said path. In the last weekend of November, I spent an unforgettable weekend in La Grave La Meije (never sure which one to call it), a refuge in the middle of absolutely nowhere, right up in the Alps, surrounded by incredible scenery. There were about 40 or so of us that went with IntEGre, one of the Erasmus groups, and we stayed in a refuge in a tiny little mountain village that looked like something out of some old movie or something. After an arduous but very snow filled hike that followed our arrival, we busied ourselves with the important issues at hand, the complementary fussball table being one of them, the ping pong table the other. After a lovely evening filled with chats and new acquaintances, we played a musical chairs type game where contestants had to run around the chalets looking for various was the search for a toilet roll that eventually knocked me out, 4 from the end...they're surprisingly hard to pry out of those big roller things so I discovered. Sad times. 
After a merveilleuse soirée, the following day we went tobogganning in the snow, and some very fun antics were the order of the day, because as we all know, once snow arrives, all previously gained maturity and about 10 years of your life just go out the window in a flurry of freezing cold hilariousness. 

aaaaaand below, my election poster if I ever decide go into politics..."get berkeled" is the current slogan, however any further ideas are appreciated.

The weekend, full of new friends, fun and frolics, was followed by an unfortunate mishap with the auld ordinateur, somewhat related to the lack of recent blog activity...after about a week of being tied to the very small computer room for social interaction, I acquired the restauration CD for my laptop, and the tech-y guys in Sciences Po obliged by fixing it...and wiping aaaaall my memory en même temps. Oh well.

The week that followed brought lots more fun things, more ice skating, more fêtes, including a very Scottish St. Andrew's day celebration (any excuse for a fête I guess, roll on St. Patrick's day!). With all the fête-ing came a rude wake up call in the dreaded form of e-x-a-m s....(insert horrified face here). Italian went well, very happy with the result, and the massive History one which I had dreaded turned out ok too !! The French result is still pending, as is the panic leading up to my next 4 exams, which one would think would require me to start would think.

I bought a bike recently actually, from this lovely lady that advertised on le Bon Coin, which is actually very handy for getting stuff assez cheap. When I met her, I wasn't expecting the bike to be quite can I say...quite so.....   pink. Yes. Very pink, very purple, however she did verify that it indeed was a man's bike, and that her boyfriend had picked it for that very reason, so nobody would steal it. Fair point I guess, it is rather, as I said, pink. I decided to be manly and buy it anyway, and I soon developed a way of cycling that screams "I'm a straight man and I'm comfortable with it", which I'm hoping is the message that's being given. Fingers crossed. I spent a good two days or so going round on what my friends have now dubbed "Princess Sparkles", (originally in an effort to make fun of me but I like the name so much that their efforts somewhat failed.), until one particular day I stopped by a local favourite supermarket Dia. I tied her up, as per usual, but two minutes later, when I came out....the key no longer opened the yeah despite using three different types of oil (including sunflower oil, decided to be ambitious at first), poor Princess Sprakles is still outside Dia, enduring minus temperatures and severe snowstorms for the last week. Someday perhaps.

The next serious issue is the loss of my French seems to have vanished into thin air, somewhere I'm guessing between the tram and the college computer room, but it's making communication quite difficult. I visited the tram HQ this evening and asked if anyone had dropped anything in...she gave me a number to call in the morning... .... seeming to be completely unaware of the fact that one usually requires a telephone of some description to make such calls. Aaah the irony. I forgive her though, she is French, and it was coming towards the end of a long hard 35 hour week. But sure she'll probably retire at 60 as well. The cheek.

Last Saturday we all got the bus to Lyon, again with IntEGre, this time for the annual Fête de Lumières which I hadn't heard about before despite it apparently being a big deal. It was.
We toured the old town in Lyon during the day, stopping off for regular vin chaud, which was a lifesaver with the cold, and then went into the city itself for the lights shows. I've never felt so claustrophobic in my life. Apparently there was an estimated 3 million people in the city for the event, and I think I was probably shoved and stood on by every single one of them. The lights we did get to see were incredible, and very very well done. There was also a massive light-animal parade, as well as flying glowing fish over the river, and finally a massive fireworks display which was just brilliant. All in all, all the cold and clautrophobia were totally worth it. Voici quelques vidéos of just one of the light shows..

So a very fun, eventful day was had in Lyon, which is a great city, despite its one massive flaw compared to Gcchhuunoblhh....the lack of mountains. I don't think I'll be able to appreciate a city without these mountains for a while yet...the Christmas market is up and running in Gcchhuunoblhh which is lovely, especially at night, plus with my laptop being fixed, Christmas FM from home is now available, and coupled with the Christmas lights now in my room, I can safely say I'm feeling quite Christmassy. Pity my shopping has yet to commence. Procrastination affects many areas of life it seems...

I'm majorly looking forward to Strasbourg next week, by all accounts it has the biggest Christmas market in Europe ! Hello new bank loan. Muse should be something special too.
That's all for now, I dearly hope I haven't forgotten anything major...the memory sometimes has trouble keeping up with all the fun.. 

à bientôt !!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Quoi de neuf??

Oooh la laa it's been a while. The last two weeks have been quite fun, quite studious actually, (I know.. me? studious? Erasmus? what?? - oxymoron central) with books to read and dissertations to write and what not. A fair while was taken up by the whopper book review I had to do for history...which I finally got done! My result was pleasantly surprising too, so I'm delighted. I think the prof was even surprised, the way he said "bon travail" to me suggested that he wasn't aware that foreign people were capable of such a feat and that he was still very suspicious...

I didn't have too much time to bask in the glory that followed finishing it though, as another book-essay double team started embêtting me from then onwards. Having read for several days about how bleak French society can be and how the author used this and that experience to write such an epic book, the essay got done, albeit several hundred words over the word count. Such is life. If there was a leeway of plus or minus 70% I could be ok. Fingers unenthusiastically crossed.

The social life, while taking a little bit of a hit with my work etc, (a hit, I realised the other day, corresponds to a period of 3 days or more not spent out until all hours..) but it's still been very fun. We had a very spontaneous come-dine-with-me-esque week in residence, having a string of deliciously healthy meals tous ensemble, which for some of us i.e me, is a great way of keeping the auld nutrition going, which when left to my own devices...well, let's just say it's not quite as frequent.

Last weekend I went on my first hike in the Alps! A bit shameful really considering I'm here nearly 3 months...but still, it was amazingly fun. We went to Le Col Vert, which is kind of to the south-west of Gcchhuunooblh, and at a height of 1,700 and something metres, meaning about a 2 and a bit hour trek up, not too challenging for some of the pros in the group but just about enough for me for my first time since 4th year in school. And even at that, the Wicklow mountains don't reeeeaaally compare to the unbelievably magnificent French Alps. Much fun was had, and amaaazing views seen, which the photos don't even do justice. I could have happily spent hours up at the top, however time was against us with darkness fast approaching...but we all survived, despite a few close calls on a particularly steep bit where I nearly plummeted to my untimely death a few times. But I didn't so all is good.

On top of the world.. many breaths were taken

Aaaand a video, which should hopefully be more representative of the breathtaking-ness.

On the Saturday, I met up with some of the guys to play football, however we were all aware that a certain event was taking place in the city around the same time, one that we all secretly wanted to be after 45 minutes of unenthusiastic football, we packed up and trekked across the city to be there on time. The Gcchhuunoblhh's very own Gangnam Style flash mob.
Needless to say, it was excellent, as hundreds of people tried out their best Psy impersonations in the main public park, while being guided by the "experts" up on the bandstand. As some have been quick to point out, it wasn't a real "flash mob", due partly to the fact that it was organised at all, but it doesn't take away from the fact that it thoroughly made my day.
Here's a snippet, great craic altogether.

So the days passed in a flurry of French and long lectures. Another Jeune Ambassadeur thing was on Thursday, this time a business presentation by a large company proposing changes to Gcchhuunooblh, which was very interesting. It was a bit of a trek to get to though but after a walking tour of the entire west side of the city, myself and the random guy I met from Argentina eventually found it.

Very few other weird or wonderful stories to report, another soirée and another ice skating session await me this evening! Aaand I'm going away in the morning for the weekend to the middle of nowhere in the mountains, with the Erasmus "club", (well, one of the many that seem to be springing up and bombarding my facebook news feed) and should hopefully be filled with some serious fun, and snow, which tends to help a lot with the former.

Bon, je vais y aller, à bientôt mes amis !!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Une semaine de vacances..

Last Saturday morning marked a great day in my year abroad, and the start of a new season. SNOOOOOOOOOOW!! Yes, tons of it. Unfortunately I slept it in and therefore missed most of the falling-out-of-the-sky part, but there was still enough left for a relatively epic snowball fight, mainly thanks to the large amounts still lodged on the parked cars.. which were not all empty as I awkwardly realised, coming face to face with a small, angry Frenchman with loathing in his eyes.

Speaking of falling-out-of-the-sky and such things, the new James Bond movie was fantastic - the well portrayed battle scenes, along with Daniel Craig's teenage girl duck-face impression made for excellent viewing. We watched it in its original version, as we figured that hearing a French dubbing guy say "zero zero sept" wouldn't be quite as awesome.

The Friday morning was interesting, as I was invited by my Jeune Ambassadeur "coach" to a luncheon with the Commission of the Chamber of Commerce in Gcchhunnooblh. Turned out I was sitting in on a very important board meeting, which got highly awkward, and I prayed for the whole hour that the lunch I was nibbling at would swallow me instead. It didn't though, so I stuck with my plan of feigned interest and fascination as new projects were unveiled and general commercial banter was had. It was a good experience all in all though, and despite feeling about 40 years too young, I'm glad I went.

The next few days were fun, as shopping trips, collective dinners, cool pub evenings and general merriment filled my time. Most of my friends had planned trips to all sorts of weird and wonderful places during the holidays, and due partly to lack of preparation, I stayed mostly in Gcchhuunooblh for the week - except for Thursday!

Another milestone in my life was reached, as I visited Italy for the very first time! Myself and Will went to Turin (I prefer 'Torino', especially if accompanied by wild hand movements) by covoiturage, the French car-sharing website, with two young Environmental Science students and a random old Arabic dude, whose phone kept ringing really loudly (I must say though, Arabic is a hilarious language to listen to, and now I honestly think the Germans get a rough deal with the cursing/violence/threatening language stereotype - they're not alone).

Our journey through the Alps was unbelievable, snow everywhere, massive mountains, crazy steep was very fun.

Once we crossed the Italian border, the general driving of those around us steadily got worse, as it seems that random U turns at junctions and a complete disregard for traffic lights are perfectly OK! We were treated to a full-on gymnastics show at one particular set of lights, as it seems the simple days of cheeky window washers and newspaper sellers have gradually ended in Italy.
But, having found a McDonald's at the train station where we were dropped off, we knew we were safe.

I cracked out a bit of the auld Italiano here and there to keep us going, and despite my hesitance and bad accento, I was understood and not looked at too strangely! We visited the Palazzo Reale which was very cool, the piazza outside alone was very impressive, and very very Italian. We bought a massive and amazing gelato each, and while waiting at a tram stop, I'd imagine the locals didn't have too much trouble in their "spot the tourist" games, looking at us two proudly flaunting our gelatos in the month of November.

One thing I did noticed is how bad the customer service standards were in the train station. I asked where we could buy TGV tickets to get home, expecting at least some sympathy and a point in the right direction. What I got was a stare and a disinterested "dunno", on more than one occasion, which resulted in us having to just hop on the train with no ticket...which got interesting when the conductor came around. We had to fork out a horrific amount of money to buy one on the train itself, which left us reeling financially and thinking not only that a fine would have been a better choice, but that we definitely should have organised a hostel or something to stay a bit longer..

We made it home eventually, via Chambéry, although we could have easily ended up in Paris, as the lovely TGV decides not to tell you where the hell you are at any given moment, leaving your destination very much up to wherever the most amount of people seem to be getting off. Despite such issues, a very enjoyable day was had, and we learned the need for proper planning, which tends to be slightly less expensive than pure spontaneity.

The rest of the weekend was quite chilled out, apart from my workload which diminished incredibly slowly as I still try and trek through that history book...the mutinies in the First World War are very interesting, but there's only so much enthusiasm one can have when trying to force-read a 600 page book in a few days..

Back to college today and great to see everyone again. Well, except the lecturer of my Right-Wing Populist movements class...although I must say his beard is looking well.

PS: Another musical recommendation, this girl (Joe BeL), was playing at a bar we went to during the week, apparently she's from Grenoble too, she's pretty good!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The fun times roll on..

Firstly, I would like to take the time to pay homage to a man with an incredibly cool name that I have enjoyed since my arrival here. Apparently an old mayor of Grenoble during the seventies, Hubert Dubedout (commonly pronounced 'Uubeedoobeedooo' by the Erasmus community) has his very own tram stop, and his name has made every young student in the region chuckle at least once. He may very well be turning in his grave while we make fun of his name and sing the Scooby Doo song among other things, but he has provided us with hours of entertainment. R.I.P dude. And thanks.

Your average view from just outside the house

This last few weeks have been incredibly fun. That seems to have become the standard scale on which to measure my enjoyment here so far, with no measurement existing lower than "unreal".

Following Ireland's 6-1 drubbing against Germany the other week, where I looked on surrounded by smug Germans and begged the barman to not change the channel (apparently "it's already 4-0 so there's no point" *insert French language and disinterested shrug* was a good enough excuse. Tell that to the Swedes.)
My week did improve, straight away actually, as all gloom was soon forgotten with one of a large number of weekly soirées. 

A visit to the Chartreuse caves last week was quite fun and cultural, in stark contrast to my weekly shopping trips, where I tend to head straight for the discount aisles - quite a few French people have been visibly offended by our choice of wines and "French" things (apparently the €1 stuff isn't generally the pride of the region.) A French themed evening also provided plenty of clichéd amusement, as moustaches and baguettes were obviously the order of the day. Admittedly the face paints did get a little out of hand and some of us ended up looking like French Hindu vampires... again, a situation where the leaders of the European Commission are probably wondering who the hell invented this Erasmus thing...someone is definitely getting fired.

Big news on a slightly different front though, I've been selected to be a "Jeune Ambassadeur" for the region, essentially a programme run by the Chamber of Commerce in Gcchhuunnobblh to get foreign students involved with the businesses in the region, establish links etc. It's very fun so far, my "coach" is one of the hotshots in the Chamber itself, so he basically knows everyone, meaning that I get to meet, quite literally, everyone. He brought me to an evening with the wine traders in France, an incredibly cultural experience, where as well as tasting the finest of French beverages, I also had my first foie gras experience (apparently some people in the EU want to ban it, so good timing I guess!). I also got into the VIP marquee where I gave the "bises" to the French Education minister (no big deal), and met lots of weird and wonderful and influential people, who kept giving me their business cards, misconstruing my polite nods as avid interest.
It's good fun so far though, and I'm looking forward to our next excursion!

At the weekend, I went ice skating with a big group from the Résidence, for the incredibly cheap price of €3 for over 2 hours! It was hilarious, partly because of my extreme lack of talent, and partly because one tends to witness some very funny incidents. We soon discovered that going around in a big train doesn't work and will inevitably end in disaster, and so will going too fast with no idea how to slow down or turn (my main problem). However, despite my quite extensive accident prone history at this type of activity, I left the building unscathed, apart from my dignity, which I have to be honest, was in tatters.

It is quite telling when my paragraph on my academic situation and college life/attendance is being squeezed in at the very end, but all is good so far, presentations went well, the book review still looming over me, and the mid term break next week may well be spent with the head down. Hopefully it can be slotted in around something fun though.

À la prochaine mes amis! x

PS: Have a listen to my new favourite song, it's fantastic.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Erasmus didn't do healthcare, but if he did..

I may have said things about my very little 12 metres squared prison cell/room... but I've realised that trying to clean it using solely a brush and pan I picked up in the 2 euro shop makes the place look huge...also, I discovered, after burning myself several times, that fridges emit heat out the back??
Had no idea. Ignorance 1, my arm 0.

Yes, after about a month, I've finally taken the time to try and clean the mess my little space has become, partly because I'm at home and quite sick, which the cleaning is probably not helping..

This week has been fun, I've been quite sick throughout although surprisingly that hasn't stopped me doing things I usually would, and more. Voilà, I'm still sick, I suppose it makes sense.
I've managed to get down to some work as well, albeit an hour before the class in question, but work nonetheless!
Once I get a proper routine going I'll be unstoppable. Until someone inevitably suggests something more fun.

So, as part of my seemingly continuous mission to make my body and my bank balance cry, this week involved a lot of fun things. The All Ireland hurling final on Sunday, once again watched by several of my mainland European friends, as well as some from North America this time, provided a very similar response to the previous week with the Gaelic football -"What the hell is going on??" The hurling did provide several more winces and gasps, as the rather violent nature of it hit home to those less familiar with the idea of 30 aggressive men running around wielding sticks.

The week continued, new acquaintances made and some friendships forged and furthered. I also met my "godfather", which is meant to be an endearing term for a French "buddy" to help me out, rather than having criminal, southern Italian connotations. A German themed Oktoberfest night came on Thursday, which was incredibly fun, and thanks to very long opening hours, somewhat creepy near the end, as I've discovered that French sleaze becomes something of a national sport after 3am. A great few nights coupled with a first-tram-home experience this morning - essentially a hazardous lifestyle for sick people, but once I get some rest, a pharmacy and some early nights this weekend everything should be grand :)

The workload in Sciences Po is increasing, with exposés and presentations dominating my to-do list, including a historical book review of  a 600 page monster due for a months time. The French students are cool if somewhat hard to come by, but judging solely by the graffiti in the bathrooms, they're quite a serious bunch - full blown debates about socialism instead of the usual "i woz ere", which was amusing but somewhat refreshing I have to say.

The Résidence is starting to liven up a bit too, meeting a lot of very cool people about the place, and I'll hopefully have my CAF sorted soon too (essentially a thing where the French government give you lots of free money off your rent) so that'll be nice! I witnessed my first tram inspectors last week, setting me back an annoying €46, so since then, transport costs have gone up from being an occasional expense depending on my mood to a quite regular expense for fear of losing all my money.

I'm off to cook some dinner, which has been a lot healthier of late actually, I might be able to say that I can cook an averagely ok meal by Christmas at this rate!

Bon, je vous laisse. À la prochaine! Bisous and all that jazz.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Nearly a month..

I haven't even been here 4 weeks yet. It feels like I've been here about 4 years. Absolutely loving life, college is stepping up a gear, that thing people call "work" looks like it'll come knocking someday soon, despite my best efforts.

Last Sunday was the All Ireland Final, a day where no matter how much of a bandwagon jumper you are or no matter where you are in the world, it is truly unique. French people get headaches just thinking that there can be a sport that is a mixture of...yes, rugby, football and handball (and/or boxing, depending on the counties involved),with what seems to be very few rules. The rules thing was also a huge issue for the Germans. Even the English people got a bit disillusioned after 10 minutes and went and sat at the empty side of the bar where the Premier League was on.
But, as in thousands of bars around the globe, about 20 true Irishmen and women turned out, (shouting mostly for Mayo, which admittedly did get a little awkward...) to cheer on the pure uniqueness that is Gaelic Football on All-Ireland day. Donegal were deserved winners on the day, although I got the feeling the minority of mainland Europeans present had no idea until the cup was lifted who had actually won and why.

Another recent new experience is my very first visit to IKEA here in Gcchhunoblhh. There is one in Dublin, for a few years now, but I've never made it out, much to my regret now... What can I say, it is incomprehensibly big, and incredibly amazing. There was something about the mattress section which made me feel like I was about 8 again. Oh and the swingy chairs. Lots of those too. I did end up making a few purchases, after all the frolicking was done, (which included an extensive sword fight/Harry Potter duel using long pieces of foam with a fellow young adult, also trying to assert his own position in an adult society). A clothes horse, a much needed toilet seat, a juicer and a chopping board were among my strangely varied purchases, and soon afterwards, my IKEA adventure came to a gradual  and tearful end.

I nearly forgot my amazingly epic trip to Lyon on Saturday! We tried a site called, essentially car-sharing, and while I'd usually be a bit reluctant, I decided to go for it in typical YOLO fashion. So, the three of us got a lift to Lyon from a quirky judo instructor that happened to be an avid fan of Rammstein. I also am now an avid fan of Rammstein, after a good hour's journey from 7-8am, hearing nothing but incredible rock tunage. The Maison du Judo, where she dropped us off became our unintentional focal point, and having lost our way and ended up there about 3 times, we eventually found somewhere to eat and from where to plan our day. We visited a military prison (as you do), a lovely park, (with a free zoo!), a lovely hilltop town with lovely views, where we found an amazing chocolate shop and unbelievably cold water, and finally the centre-ville itself which is charming in it's own way. We also missed our train coming back, in typical Erasmus adventure fashion. I found Lyon to be a lovely place, although it's hard to beat the scenery in Grenoble, so if there was one criticism I had to make about Lyon it would be the mountains thing, or lack thereof. Had a thoroughly enjoyable, random and funny day, with plenty of interesting photos which shall be available soooon!

Another week of classes at Sciences-Po has ended, and to my delight I have Fridays completely free this term! Plenty to fill it with however, last bits of bureaucracy and upcoming presentations will make sure I don't have things too easy. I'm getting to know so many people still, and it's great to constantly see familiar faces around college, means there's always someone up for a chat!

I feel my leaba calling me, à bientot! :)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Baaaah ouiii!!

Getting the hang of things here, have a new freshly painted 12 metres squared, ('room' would be pushing it) finally used the much needed laundry facility, and I've started college!

My amazing first two weeks of pure holiday were quickly forgotten during an intensely horrific 3 hour lecture in International Relations at 8am. Yes. 8AM! I've discovered, the hard way, that the French are mad for their long lectures, early mornings and even late evenings, I had one class that went until 8pm!
It's also in French, which doesn't exactly help matters, although my comprehension is quite good now, and note-taking in French has become a lot more second nature to me which is another positive.
Socially, a few early-ish nights were needed over the last while, however it's still going strong, the majority of the group now being from Sciences-Po, (with plenty of other additions) and the multitude of bars and cafés in Gcchhuunoblhh is quite something.

Plenty of bureaucracy still to get finished, although my bank account and general registration seem to be all sorted. I thought I was relatively organised, until at 7.55am on the morning before the first lecture, I realised that no, I did not have anything to write on...another strange thing about the French, they don't tend to have normal lined paper at all, just this weird graphy stuff that I remember from the good aul days in Junior Cert maths. They do however, write more than ogives and histograms on them I've noticed, and though it may be a small difference, I'll file it in as another aspect of their wonderfully bizarre national culture.

The college is really nice and small, with only a few hundred students, due to the private and probably élitist nature of it. The fact that I'm surrounded by the super smart 10% of French students that passed the big exam to get in to Sciences Po still daunts me a little, although it was pointed out to me that I too did a difficult exam i.e the Leaving Cert, and that makes me feel a little better.

I got my first glimpses of snow on the Alps last week, an absolute sight to behold, and further pictures shall come in the next few weeks I'm sure! I'm off to my first Italian class of the year, a presto! :)

Friday, 7 September 2012

Settling in..

I learned a very important travel lesson this week...bring your phone charger.
On Wednesday I ended up buying two mobile phones in an hour - pretty impressive even by modern levels of communication. Originally bought an Alcatel phone (no, I hadn't heard of them before either) for about 25 quid to tie me over as a French phone, and then went on the hunt for a Nokia charger for the Irish one. Long story short, turned out cheaper to buy a new Nokia phone to get a charger than a charger on its hey, 3 phones, why not?

Had another enjoyable soirée on Wednesday, meeting some more people and getting to know the night scene in Gccchhhunoblh a little bit better. On Thursday, after doing a big shop in a Casino that I eventually found ( for things like pots, pans, bins and soap etc, surprisingly forgettable up until now), I went on an evening wander of the city. After only 5 days or so I can safely say that I love the place. Something about it just really works! The scenery is breathtaking, the town itself has a really nice atmosphere, and the transport system of trams and bikes is amazingly efficient. I had heard that Gcchhunoblh was similar to Dublin, and I have to agree, but I've realised that it's what Dublin COULD be like if someone cool and forward-thinking designed it. Simple things like tram-lines on the grass...why not?? They'd probably think of some excuse back home and someone would probably complain for environmental reasons or something, but it works so well and the grass is fine!
Tram lines on the grass...why not?
The tram goes right through the university campus too, making it super easy to get places, and Sciences-Po is just two stops down from my Résidence so technically walkable if I was feeling energetic..

Finally organised my things in my room and used our shared kitchen for the first time...two of the hob rings out of six actually work so it's a bit dire, but I managed to cook up some pasta even if it did take me quite a while..
The painter guy came around this morning and said that they'd start re-doing the room on Tuesday so happy days! My chewing gum covered walls will hopefully be transformed into something slightly more aesthetically pleasing. Fingers crossed. Here are some pictures of the place, including some of the journey from Geneva...they don't really do it justice though!
À bientot! :)

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

First impressions..

Sooo I arrived safe and sound on Monday afternoon! After a nerve wracking and back breaking trek through the airport with my ridiculously illegal amounts of "hand-luggage", I made it on the plane, where admittedly I did take up rather more than my fair share of overhead bin space...However, oblivious to my disgruntled co-passengers, I made it to Geneva in one piece, got through a very strict customs - I guess they are Swiss after all, don't seem to trust anyone - grabbed a bite to eat and found the train ! They gave me my change in Swiss Francs too which was a first, they do look kinda cool, my first novelty souvenir!

Mistakenly got into First Class on the train to the City Centre, but luckily no scary Swiss people seemed to notice.. then I got my connection to Gcchhhunoblh. The journey was every bit as lovely as I'd imagined, no snow yet obviously but the views were unbelievable! (Pictures to come very shortly).
Got a taxi to the CROUS office at my Résidence, and then underwent several hours of queuing and French bureaucracy before finally being shown my room. I was less than impressed. I've since got onto them and hopefully the painter should be coming soon to freshen the place up a bit, fingers crossed! Found a McDonalds, which let's be honest, is always a good thing in a new place, and I've been benefiting unashamedly from their free WiFi for the last few days!

The town itself is lovely, with trams bringing everyone back and forth, with a lot of cyclists around too. The lack of cars really surprised me, but it's great because it means that people are milling about the streets, very relaxed, without the threat of traffic or fast motorists, it's really nice! The massively humongous looming mountains in the background can be quite scary in the evenings, but unbelievably spectacular during the day, can't wait until it starts to snow!! I went on a historic tour of the city organised by the welcome group last night, followed by an excellent soirée in one of the local haunts the "Montechristo".

The French is coming along nicely, frustrating at times when trying to express myself but the comprehension is good and I'm definitely getting by all right! It'll be a different story once lectures start I can imagine! Despite the French immersion so far, when I heard English voices at the tour it was impossible not to gravitate immediately towards them, giving me some slight relief from the constant bombardment of French language and culture for an evening, which, as I keep telling myself, I really needed!

Another tour on tonight, and I also need to find a supermarket as well as a cheap French phone - plenty to be getting on with!
I'll put up some pictures soon, à bientot! :)

Friday, 31 August 2012

2 days to go !

Off on Monday morning, bright and early at 6.50am, probably meaning a pretty horrendous 5am airport check in...but will it be worth it?? I certainly hope so! Bag packing is a major issue, 20kg is the max I can bring with Aer Lingus, and I've long since passed that particular figure..
If it's not too noticeable, I think the "several items of hand-luggage" routine could work nicely, along with the "wearing everything" mantra, usually reserved for Ryanair flights, however incredibly relevant to my current predicament..

I'm really looking forward to the train journey between Geneva and Grenoble. I've heard nothing but good reviews about the amazing scenery and breathtaking surroundings in the very heart of the Alps, so I'm very very excited! Once I get there, the bureaucracy will most likely begin, and while I feel confident enough to get by in French, this could be a new challenge entirely!

According to the Facebook group I recently discovered, there will be events taking place from day one, so fingers crossed I won't need too much adjusting time and that I'll get into the swing of things quickly!

Counting down the hours now, à bientôt ! I shall finish with a hilarious sounding rap about Grenoble that I just found - God help us all.

Monday, 13 August 2012

The countdown begins..

It's only a mere three weeks now before I head off! Flying on the 3rd of September to Geneva and then getting the good old TGV to Grenoble. Switzerland should be fun, even though it'll be just the airport, but I do plan to make it back for a proper visit during the year, as well as all the other travelling I have planned, Italy, Paris, Bordeaux etc...yeeeah I'd imagine the bank balance will get back to me on that one.

Having lived for a bit in Paris last summer the idea of living alone isn't quite as daunting as it could have been, but the idea of college completely en français at Sciences-Po is a bit daunting, plus the assumption that everyone else going there has passed a very tough exam and will probably end up being big political hotshots in the future.. oh well, time will tell!
I do however like to think that I'll be only doing collegey stuff in between all my galavanting across the Alps and all the skiing I'll be doing, added to the incessant socialising and partying that seems to be a right of passage for Erasmus students...but I have a feeling that underestimating college in France may come back to haunt me. Big time.

Roll on 3rd of September !!