Thursday, 13 November 2014

Toussaint, Salsa and Geneva!

The past couple of weeks have flown by, and there is so much that I could write about, but I’ll try to stick to interesting highlights and important updates, and as always, the photos will be able to speak for themselves!

We had a mid-term break for Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) the week of the 27th October, so I decided to travel across France to visit some family friends’ who for the last few years have been calling a small village called Vergné home. It’s located in the west of the country, somewhere between Poitiers, Limoges and Angoulême, in the Poitou-Charantes region. It took me about 4 hours on the train with a quick change over outside Tours, and I was greeted with warm, welcoming and very familiar faces at the station. What was so lovely about my week away, was the time and freedom to do whatever we wanted, be it relaxing, exploring, reading, or walking through the beautiful countryside and farmland. We went to a book fair, made friends with a local donkey and walked a dog around a lake, and I got to spend some time in the fresh country air – which was refreshing after so many months of city life!

La Rochefoucauld
One of the best parts of the trip was going to a town called La Rochefoucauld, and seeing the stunning château, which looked out over the surrounding area. My favourite thing though, was on the birthday of one of my hosts, when we had the French neighbours over for apéros (drinks and nibbles). It was fantastic, I was surrounded by a generation of French people I don’t normally have the chance to socialise with, and not one of them could speak English! Their accents were a little tricky to understand at times, but they were all so lovely, and I think they quite enjoyed having a young English girl speaking French to them.

When I got back to Lyon, I went to see the Lyon women’s football team play a league match against Paris Saint-Germain. Amélie, the university team captain, invited me. She gets free tickets because she trained with Lyon women’s academy up to under-18 level. Despite playing football and watching women’s matches on the television during major tournaments, I had never seen a live professional women’s game, and I was surprised how many people turned up to watch. There were just over 10,000 spectators, which is more than some English men’s league teams can manage. To top it all off, the match was full of action, with Lyon eventually winning 2-1. (I sense a recurring pattern…as this was the score at the last Lyon game I went to see…)

I thought going back to university for the second half of term was going to be difficult after enjoying a week of not having lessons. However, I found myself missing my new friends, and anxious to get various exam results back. I’m pleased to say I passed all of the ones that I have received my marks for, and I’m particularly pleased with my mark for the oral presentation I gave on the British Monarchy in my French language class. Smug feelings lasted only a little while though, as I realised that this is the half of term where deadlines and exam dates are all the more frequent.

I decided to distract myself with various gatherings; namely for drinks, dinner or coffee. The best of these nights was by far a trip to one of the many salsa bars in Lyon. You walk in, have a drink…or not…or three…and strut your salsa stuff on the dance floor. I went with three of my Australian friends, we ended up befriending some French students who seem to go quite regularly, and they told us to meet them there any Friday as they would more than likely be there.

I also have a little confession to make. I had a moment on 5th November when I realised I wasn't going to see any bonfires or any fireworks... I wasn't going to eat baked potato or mushy peas with mint, or stew or pie, or rolls filled with roast pork, stuffing and apple sauce, or toffee apples (not that I like them much)...I wasn't going to be able to drink mulled cider or mulled wine, or hot toddy...more importantly, I wasn't going to be able to play with sparklers!!! I won't lie, it was a little depressing. It's one of my favourite times of the year, and the first thing (friends/family not included) that I've actually missed about the UK. That night, I turned on my heater, curled up in bed, watched an uplifting film and booked my train ticket home for Christmas...

Palais des Nations
One of the highlights of the past few weeks though was most definitely my day trip to Geneva on Saturday 8th November. It was my first ever time visiting Switzerland, and it’s only two hours away from Lyon on the train. I was accompanied by Emmanuelle, one of my Australian friends. We started with a fleeting walk through the botanical gardens, before heading to the United Nations. The square in front of the UN is home to a lovely fountain, and a giant chair with a broken leg, designed by Swiss artist Daniel Berset. I have to admit I had absolutely no idea what the meaning was behind it, but I’ve done some research and have discovered that it symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs. It was erected in 1997 before the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, and has been there ever since to act as a reminder to politicians and tourists alike who visit the Palais des Nations. We ate our lunch on a bench by Lake Geneva, looking out to the Alps and the imposing yet majestic Mont Blanc – it really is a breathtakingly beautiful city. We spent some time trying to work out where the famous Jet d’Eau (fountain in the lake) was, before realising that it just wasn’t switched on that day. It was a relief actually, because before we realised that we were in fact in the right place, I was beginning to lose faith in my map reading skills.

Horloge Fleurie
Next, we headed to the Jardin Anglais to see the Horloge Fleurie (flower clock), before having a wander around the old town. We visited the Cathedral Saint-Pierre, and decided to pay to climb the towers so that we could see the view of the city from the top of one of the its most iconic buildings. We weren’t disappointed. The lake, the mountains and the tops of old and new buildings alike greeted us. I felt quite intoxicated by the city to be honest – I liked it that much! After catching our breath, we finished the trip with Swiss fondue for dinner, before catching the train home.

We actually only have around three weeks of teaching left before exams start in December and I have three essays to write before then. I’m already planning what to do/where to go to celebrate after I’ve handed them all in and finished my exams. I’m determined to make the most of the time I have left of the French half of my year abroad, and I don’t think it would be complete without a visit to one of the world’s best Christmas markets: Strasbourg. As no UCL student has actually received our Erasmus grant yet, (three months in), I’ll have to wait and see nearer the time if I can afford it!

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