Sunday, 28 September 2014

Au bord de la mer...

It’s official. I have now been in Lyon for just over a month, and it’s been a pretty great first month. But rather than talking about Lyon this week, I thought I’d tell you about my first real adventure: a weekend trip to Marseille.

There are a lot of rivalries between the cities of Lyon and Marseille. Arguments over the better football team, the better food, the better weather, and which city is France’s second city behind Paris. As a city, Marseille is France’s second largest, but if you include all the surrounding urban areas, then Lyon is larger. Food hands down goes to Lyon, the weather is debatable but Marseille stays warmer for longer in the year, and football changes from season to season. I had never been to Marseille before, and as an adopted Lyonnaise I was a little sceptical, but it was certainly worth a visit.

Calanque de Sugiton
Getting up at 5.30am on the Saturday, I met two of my Australian friends at the train station to catch a 7.20am train. I drifted in and out of sleep during the journey south, but the times I managed to keep my eyes open long enough I was rewarded with the views of beautiful hills and sparkling lakes. We arrived at about 10.30am and after finding our three other friends, stopping by the hostel and grabbing some lunch, we headed straight to one of Marseille’s most naturally beautiful attractions: the calanques. A calanque is a steep-walled inlet, cove, or bay often surrounded by limestone mountains and valleys, and the only two ways to get to the ones in Marseille is to either pay €9 for a boat to take you right there, or to catch a bus to the end of the line and then hike down the valley. Naturally, being an adventurous group we decided to go for the hike. It’s a massive cliché to say I felt at one with nature, so I’ll just say that the views from the top of the valley down onto the Mediterranean Sea were incredible, and the hike itself was a fantastic bonding experience. The terrain was a little tough, it was quite warm and at times I felt like we’d gone rock-climbing instead of hiking, but what we found at the bottom of the valley was well worth the effort. Beautiful blue sea surrounded by trees and rocks to jump from, and it wasn’t overcrowded either. The water was a little chilly to begin with, being sheltered from most of the sun, but after the climb down it was refreshing and so welcoming!

After another hike back to the top which made me think I was travelling to the Eyrie in Game of Thrones, we went back into the city, made ourselves some dinner back at the hostel and then went out to find a nice bar where we could reward our day’s exertions with a drink.

Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde
Inside the Basilique
Sunday started with breakfast from the boulangerie around the corner from the hostel, and then we headed off to visit Marseille’s cathedral on the hill, la Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. Looking at it from the outside, you can see the southern/Mediterranean influences on the building. The colour of the stones wasn’t that dissimilar to the Duomo of Florence. There was also a very obvious marine theme inside, with paintings of boats and the sea on the walls, and model boats hanging from the ceiling. It was beautiful, and unlike any church décor I had seen previously. The views of Marseille from the church weren’t bad either, despite it being a rather misty morning.

Vieux Port
The call of lunch brought us back down the hill to the Vieux Port, where we bought scented Marseille soap and spent the next hour or so eating at a restaurant in a little square just off the main tourist area. I then spent a bit of time enjoying the scent of fresh sea air and admiring the yachts and boats that were docked in the harbour, (goes with the territory of being from a naval family), before we headed to the station to catch our ride home.

On the whole I really liked Marseille. It has got a lot of things going for it, never mind the fact that it’s right by the sea, but I prefer Lyon as a city to live in. I was glad that after a really enjoyable weekend away I could come back to somewhere I’m really happy to be able to call home. I’m also especially looking forward to this next week as I have some people coming to visit and I cannot wait to show Lyon off to them. 

Left to Right: Marie-Laure, Me, Johanna

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Fun, food and football!

It’s been almost two weeks since my last post and I’ve done quite a few things in that time that I think are probably worth a mention. So if you’d like to know what I’ve been getting up to, please read on!

I guess the main change I should talk about is that the international student orientation classes have ended, and real university classes started last Monday. It’s a different system to get your head round, as the course commencement dates are staggered here: lectures started on 8th September, my French language class starts on 15th, and my seminar classes don’t start until next Monday (22nd). September is what’s known as the opt-in/opt-out period at Université Lyon 3. I can turn up to any lecture or tutorial I want until I ‘validate my choices’ online, which has to be done by the end of the month. I’m pleased to say I have about 80% of my classes chosen, with just a few seminars left to try. Another difference is the style of teaching over here. A lot of the lecturers prefer to use over-head projectors, something I haven’t encountered since my primary school days, and something that no one in this day and age should even contemplate using - mainly because it relies on you being able to understand the lecturer’s writing, which half the time is a sprawl of illegible mess. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much of the spoken lecture I can understand, and by the amount of notes I’ve been able to take in French…although at times I do have to revert to my reliance on fluent franglais. I quote, “personne n’est vraiment capable de dire ceux qui sont the boarders/exact boundaries of the Islamic State’s territory”. Hey, I said I took notes in French, not that those notes were in good French!

Generally, all of the lectures I’ve been to are very interesting. I’m going to be studying a mix of history, literature and culture, as well as attempting some French-English translation and vice versa. I’m also taking an Italian grammar class to keep up my (poor) standard ready for my second semester in Bologna. 

In other news, I opened a French bank account and was rewarded with a nice new piece of shiny plastic to play with. Now I won’t have to take so much out on my English card and I won’t get oversees transaction charges.

I also signed up for sports at my university. I can now join the women’s football team…no I can’t live without it even for a semester, take zumba classes and play badminton. I think it’s a pretty good deal, a great way to meet people (hopefully more French people), and if it means I can work off some of the extra baguette and cheese calories, I can’t lose really. Well, except for the loss of some weight…which I won’t really mourn that much!

Other things worth mentioning…

Café Théâtre
I went to a café théâtre with some of my new friends. It’s essentially a bar with a stage where you go to have a drink and watch some kind of performance. It’s very popular in Lyon, pretty cheap, and you get to soak up some of the local atmosphere and culture. We saw a comedian called Jeremy Charbonnel. A decent looking chap; he was actually very funny. If you ever find yourself in Lyon and can understand the language, a café théâtre should be near the top of your list of things to experience!

Trips to the bar and the park with new friends have been wonderful, and with all the warm sunny Lyonnais weather we’re having, I find myself out and about most days and nights. The relaxed, warm evenings and the promise of a red (berry flavoured) beer is an added bonus, but I promise, that’s not the only reason I’m going out…no…really.

Stade de Gerland
I also went wine and cheese tasting. I don’t need to tell you how good that was…it was WINE and CHEESE tasting. Now you know why I signed up for sports!

Of course, my visit to Lyon wouldn’t be complete without a football match, so on 12th September I went with some of the international students to Stade de Gerland to watch Lyon play Monaco. I went to a game back in 2011 to see Lyon play Caen, but that was as exciting as watching paint dry. This match was completely different: end to end football, some world class players on display and to top it all off, Lyon won 2-1. Lyonnais, Lyonnais, Lyonnais!!! Is it too early to invest in a new football shirt??? At €80 a ‘maillot’…I think so…

Life in France would also not be complete without trips to the market, and I LOVE markets. Fresh produce, the chance to meet some real characters and know that your food came from a good place. Not to mention it’s so much cheaper than the supermarket. Obviously there are some things you just can’t get at a market, but for most food, it’s the only place I would go in France. This week was a trip to Montplaisir market with my Australian friend and new found market buddy, Molly. I could have spent the whole day there, but alas, it only lasts the morning. Still, I managed to buy heaps of fruit and veg, half a roast chicken, apple juice fresh from the farm and some fine looking strawberries, and I didn’t break the bank to get it all! This is how food shopping is meant to be!

Last week some of us decided to have a girls’ night out at an Erasmus party held in a local club. The party itself was fun. My friend decided to take part in the dress up sumo wrestling, which resulted in me nearly dying from asphyxiation due to laughing so much I couldn’t breathe. Actually, the best part of the night was before we went to the party. We went to buy food at Carrefour, that queen of French supermarkets, went to my friend Marie-Laure’s apartment and had burritos and homemade guacamole courtesy of my Colombian-Canadian friend Daniela. Words cannot express how good the food was, and the company was even better!

On Saturday, some of us may also have managed to accidentally crash someone's private party at a venue near the river whilst looking for a loo. There were no bouncers/security on the door, we were pretty desperate and it wasn't until several minutes of dancing later that we realised we probably shouldn't be there. We politely shuffled/danced our way out of the door, and cycled home on the Vélo'V bikes, (Lyon equivalent of a Boris Bike). Honestly, it is impossible to find a free bike late at night, and when we did, it then took us hours to find a free space to put our bikes near our homes. A good, if somewhat surreal time was had by all, and we will never speak about the party crashing ever again...apart from when, in a few months time, one of us says, "hey, remember that night we went out and couldn't find a bathroom, and walked into the private party and then couldn't find anywhere to put our bikes so cycled round Lyon until about five in the morning?"...absolute rebels! (This blog is called Abby's Year Abroad Adventures...I guess it wouldn't really live up to its name if there wasn't an accidental party crash thrown in there at some point!)

Oh, since arriving in Lyon I’ve also been described by others as a BNOC (big name on campus) and 'cool' for using the word ‘fit’ to describe a good looking guy whilst talking to my Irish and Australian friends. Me…cool…I know right?

After all of that excitement I thought I’d bring you crashing back down to earth with a bang: someone I know got mugged in Paris, another of my friends snatched her phone back from a pickpocket on the Lyon metro, and another of my friends had her purse stolen by the same pickpocket (the fiend). Needless to say I’ve been walking home alone in the early hours of every morning and walking around with my bag open and all my valuables out on show. Vive la France!

Left to right: Johanna, Marie-Laure, Katrina, Samuel, Molly, Me, Kathleen, Emanuelle, Daniela

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Bienvenue à Lyon!

As most of you who know me are aware, I study French and Italian at University College London. In third year, we have to spend a year abroad either working or taking part in a university exchange. I opted to go for university exchanges in Lyon, France, and Bologna, Italy. I know a lot of people blog about their year abroad experiences, so please don't feel you have to read these posts, but if you like me enough to want to know what I'm doing, welcome to my year abroad blog! :)

I've been in Lyon for ten days now, and I have to say I'm quite happy to be back in the city I lived in for nearly four months back in 2011. Last time, I was studying at ESL language school and living with a lovely host family in a place called Cuire. This time, I'll be studying at Université Jean Moulin Lyon III, and living in a little studio room in a residence not far from La Guillotière - about half way between my university and the Rhône, one of Lyon's two rivers.

The Rhône
I moved into my room last Monday with the help of my sister, and said goodbye to her at the train station just hours later. From then, it was a case of same old Lyon. It was strange to be back. I was walking down streets I already knew, hearing an accent I was already familiar with and seeing sites I was already well-acquainted with. To be honest, coming on this year abroad was the last thing I wanted to do, but being back in the city I have loved and missed for three years has made it all much more bearable. I know this city, I know it's people and culture and I know how to get various bits and pieces essential for everyday life and where the best places are. Perhaps this year isn't going to be so bad after all...

I've spent the last week at integration/orientation sessions and classes at the university and I've met most of the international students who have also come here on exchange. They are a lovely bunch of people from every corner of the globe: USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Colombia...the list goes on. We've been drinking wine by the Saône (the city's second river), drinking beer in a Danish bar, eating ice cream in Vieux Lyon (the old town), and getting to grips with French bureaucracy together (yes, we do other things besides eat and drink!)

River Saône
That moves me onto the next thing...paper work! I've never been so frustrated in my life. To get my student card I needed to prove I have Civil Liability Insurance, to get that I needed to open an account with a French bank, to do that I needed to get proof of residence...for the past week I have been swimming in a sea of documents and have been sent from pillar to post to find everything. Thankfully, I can now say I have overcome France's attempts at demoralisation and come away with a shiny new student card all pretty with a multi-coloured background...the picture on the other hand is rather awful hence the lack of a photo!!!

I don't want to drag on for ages in my first post, and they won't necessarily be regular either. But for all those who were forgetting who I was already, I just wanted to let you all know I've made it past four days, all bets are off!

I'll leave you with a lovey picture of my university!

Jean Moulin Lyon III - Manufacture des Tabacs campus