Thursday, 28 February 2008

really in need of a trusted second opinion.

I forgot to mention the other jeans story from Monday. I'm feeling decidedly frumpy here in my loose bootleg jeans, so I went into the Levi's shop to search out some trendier ones. I had an interesting conversation with the sales guy:

Sales Guy: Bonjour....blah blah blah*, blah blah blah blah blah blah?
Emily: Pardon?
SG: Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah?
E: Pardon?
SG: I can speak in English if you'd prefer?
E: Oh! Yes please!
SG: Did you realise those jeans you're holding are skinny leg jeans?
E: Um....yes....
SG: Oh.....ok.....
E: Well, since I've got you. I'm not sure what size I am. The sizes are different in Australia. Perhaps you can help me.
SG: You want to try these jeans on?
E: Yes please.
SG: Ok... I think this is your size. We also have that colour in bootleg. Would you like to try those too?
E: Um....ok....

I'm not sure if he was just trying to be helpful since I was actually wearing my bootleg jeans that day, or if he was implying I probably shouldn't be trying on skinny jeans.

Anyway, the skinny jeans (which weren't terribly skinny, but just kind of straight tending towards skinny) looked surprisingly ok. But after that, and the fact that Levi's are apparently FREAKING EXPENSIVE in Europe, I didn't buy them. But I'm still thinking about it.

* 'blablablah' is actually in the French dictionary. Really it IS. It apparently means 'claptrap'. I'm using it in a more general English sense however...

Today was nothing special, but I had a bit of a silly afternoon. I tried to go to the giant supermarket that I'm told is right next to my tram stop, because I needed bread and vitamin C. But in true Emily style I got lost along the way. Which I'm sort of used to, and I would've figured it out, but a very kind old man stopped to ask if I needed help. So I showed him the tram stop on the map and told him I wanted to go there. He walked me all the way to the there (and said my French was very good!), and as the tram was just pulling up when we arrived he told me to run for it. Not wanting to be rude, since I hadn't explained that I wanted to go to the supermarket, I aborted the giant supermarket mission.

I went to the supermarket next to the tram stop ('Hyper Casino' - different than the supermarket next to the bus stop) and bought a few things (and didn't buy a few things that I could've, like Oreos and those lovely Destrooper almond thins that are so hard to find at home). I ended up at the checkout with some mandarins. The checkout chick asked me a question, and I mumbled a bewildered 'je ne sais pas' at her, since I had no idea what she was talking about. She gave my mandarins to the man behind me in the line who wandered off with them! It turns out you're supposed to weigh your fruit in the fruit section and print yourself a barcode with the price. w.e.i.r.d. Oopsies!

Just watched more 'Oui-Oui' and now I know the word for bagpipes. What a useful program! Also, in French, Noddy sings. SINGS!

Urgh.

Mararon-A-Day #6: Pistache

You know how marzipan tastes nothing like almonds? And you know how there's a similar problem with pistachios, whereby at, for example, cheap Italian cafes the pistachio gelati tastes nothing like pistachios but rather like the agreed upon idea of what bright green 'pistachio' flavour should be?

Well this was that flavour. Which I don't particularly like, in the same way that I don't like marzipan. Which is not to say that this macaron was bad per se, it just wasn't what I was hoping for.

Oh well. Onwards and upwards!

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

coming down with something.

I can't remember when I last wrote - Saturday I think, and not much has happened since then, but I seem to be a verbal volcano at the moment - unable to stop myself from spewing out everything that's inside. Someone (Hemmingway???) said that you've got a good piece of writing, not when there's no more to add, but when there's no longer anything to take away. I guess I've got a way to go. Hopefully someday I'll be able to write concise, eloquent and witty little stories about an interesting thing that's happened, but for the moment you'll just have to bear with me as I wade through the minutae.

On Sunday I went to see Sweeney Todd which was excellent but oh SO depressing, but I'll write a proper review up some other time. Afterwards I went for a run in the beautiful park. I managed to run for the full 30 minutes again - I'm finding it sort of helpful in times of stress because when I'm running because it takes all my strength to just. keep. going. so it's an opportunity to not think about everything else for a bit, which actually makes it easier to want to keep going. I'm aiming for 3x a week (although I really should aim for more, what with the proportions of my diet being drastically skewed towards the other four food groups: chocolate, cheese, bread and potatoes) but it's not quite happening at the moment. Funnily enough, the advertisements against smoking here are not nearly as strong, but on junk food ads (coke, for example), there's always fine print at the bottom recommending you exercise to stay healthy!

On Monday I decided to treat myself to some lovely red shoes I'd seen, but ended up not getting them because they were a wee bit clog-like, and I ended up looking like Heidi the Dutch milkmaid or something. I did a fair bit of general wandering and I think my sense of direction is getting better. I'm rapidly discovering that the more interesting shops (surprise surprise) are a little off the beaten track, so wandering aimlessly can turn up some treasures. I've found an excellent cheese shop (although I haven't actually gone in yet...the smell when someone opens the door indicates I'm going to need some fortitude, but it's little and ridiculously cute, and there's no refrigeration, just shelves and tables), and an Irish shop (which doesn't sound that intersting, but stocks a heap of things I will soon want, like cheddar, Worcestershire Sauce and crunchies). I also found the Swatch shop which has lots of excellent jewellery, and another most excellent cheap jewellery shop, where I bought my lariest ring yet, which was a very satisfactory substitute for the shoes, especially since it was about 1/18th the price.

I headed back to Monoprix to buy myself lunches for the week, as even cheap bought lunches are horrifyingly expensive when you're doing it every day. This week I'm eating multigrain baguettes with tomato and goats cheese (good luck finding normal hard cheese in a french supermarket, although you can buy St Agur...yes, St Agur IN THE SUPERMARKET and not even the fancy gourmet section, just the normal cheese fridge), bananas, natural yoghurt (it's plain or hyper-sweet here, there's no middle ground) and apple juice fruit boxes.

Tuesday was spent in class and at the Orange (French equivalent of Telstra) shop. My phone credit has gone haywire again. After spending over 2 hours (my lunch hour, and after class until the shop closed) in the shop with an extremely helpful sales lady, we figured out that my phone, for the purposes of the internet/email, thinks it's in Britain. Once we figure out how to tell it it's in France (which I haven't managed yet, partly because there's a lot of settings to fix, partly because my phone's just being difficult, and partly because my phone's in English which makes it difficult for the French people to help) everything should be ok. So I've turned off the internet altogether, and someone who speaks English *should* be calling me to talk me through it tonight. We'll see. If you want to contact me urgently, sms is the way to go at the moment, although I'm getting email every day anyway, because I've sussed out the free wifi cafes around the place, and resigned myself to schlepping in my laptop every day.

Today was a bit of a washout of a day, on the whole, but a few interesting things happened, apart from the standard looking-like-a-crazy-person-photographing-macarons-in-public. I meant to spend the afternoon job hunting, but I forgot my map, lost my umbrella (and it was raining), the shop with the printer (for my C.V.) is shut for the school holidays and the Canele shop was closed. So I made it to one of the four places I'd planned to go - the International school here - and even that was being run with a skeleton holiday staff.

I randomly got kicked out of my language school at lunchtime - some of the people there are extremely lovely, but there's a few trolls, and today one of them came out of the woodwork I guess. I went to find somewhere to eat my lunch, and came across the ruins of an amphitheatre from the 1st century. I can't tell you much more about it than that because the information panel was all graffitied, but it was quite amazing to stumble across something like that in the middle of the city!

I went to La Poste and bought some postcard stamps, and sent some letters. They weighed the letters and they cost me 1.70 euro each to send, so I think what the lady told me the other day was a bit misleading. Yes, posting heavy parcels to Australia is expensive, but if you want to send something bulky that's say, 200g, the cheapest way is NOT to buy the 24euro pre-paid-up-to-2-kg boxes. That is nice to know. Mum's had some new shoes sent to me, to forward on home, so I guess that will be a good litmus test.

I walked most of the way home today, because the International School was on the route, and I decided once I'd gotten off to see how I went walking. It turns out you just turn right from my language school and follow the road til you get to the bus stop near my house. It's about 4ks so it's still a hike with a heavy bag, but it's nice to know it's so easy and I can't get lost! There was lots of pretty architecture and little gourmet grocery stores along the way so it was quite an interesting walk. Because France is so old, even the buildings which by French standards are new and boring, I'm finding quite beautiful.

I popped in at the Asian takeaway/grocer to buy a spring roll ('Nem') for the road. I tried to ask for it hot, and then had a big exchange with the guy which I didn't understand at all, despite the fact that he was able to put half of it in English for me (GOD the people here are ANNOYING. Isn't 2 languages enough? I can barely manage one!). I got my spring roll hot in the end, and it was all wrong. It looked like it had been fried, but the texture felt more like a cold roll that had been microwaved, so I guess the conversation was all about how maybe asking for the thing that looked like a spring roll warmed up was a stupid request. I 'm glad I asked for vegetarian though and not the chicken! Anyway, it tasted ok... at least it tasted properly Asian which was good because I've been missing that. I went searching for pho on the weekend and it was abortive when the recommended shop had a sign in the window saying it had closed down. Attempt 2 this weekend I think. At the Asian shop today I also bought a Taiwanese passionfruit drink which was completely awesome. Just like Golden Pash (which I'd also been missing) only better and bigger. I will be going back there, even though the guy now thinks I'm an idiot (fair enough).

After one cycle of the recommended salt treatment for my jeans, they are still turning the water (a slightly less vivid blue) so I'm repeating the process. I went to the supermarket to get more salt, and spent ages just looking around. I find foreign supermarkets so interesting - there's so much to contrast to home, and it's like a little microcosm of the everyday culture. French supermarkets smell unfortunately kind of gross, I haven't quite figured out why, but it's not good. They have lots of fancy fruits, but you can't get watermelon...or any melon for that matter. You can buy a tagine, but you can't buy a spoon. Nestle rules here, and there is no Cadbury - in general the supermarkets in the UK seemed to stock a lot more of the same products - but I discovered fair trade (which I always manage to call 'free trade') chocolate for only a few centimes more than the Lindt, which is cheap here anyway. There is literally an entire aisle for yoghurt, all of which is super sweet except for the few tubs of natural yoghurt, and I would say that probably half of it is some variation on chocolate. There's also a lot of pre-packaged dairy desserts, like creme caramel, iles flotantes etc. The French seem to eat a LOT of dairy (yoghurt, cheese) which is why I find it so weird that almost all of the milk is long life. (The 'normal' milk seems to be non-pasteurised and put through some weird filtering process instead.) This is probably one reason why the coffee here is not so good, although I have to say that on the whole it's not as bad as I was expecting. On a feminine note (boys may skip ahead to the asterisk) the francaises seem to love the Ultra Thins and only the Ultra Thins, which I do not, so I'm looking forward to leaky week even less than usual. * Chewing gum is l-a-m-e here - all pellets and no Extra. I'm glad I stocked up in the US. Beer is super dooper excellent here - all the fancy Belgian Beer Bar brands are in the supermarket and unbelievably cheap. You can get a 6 pack of Hoegardarden for around the price of 3 espressos. It's cheap even when converted into dollars and compared with West End. When I move out, I fully expect I will eat nothing but beer, chocolate and cheese, which is fortunate because Maggi noodles seem hard to come by here (don't worry Mum, just joking!). There are also lots of different flavours of Ferrero Rocher which I'm looking forward to trying. Ok, I think that's all about the supermarket. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Emily Buys Groceries!

In the evening I found myself watching Noddy with the kids. It was the weirdest experience yet. To start with they had a lot of trouble (the adults included) believing me that it's based on English books from the 50s. 'No, it's French'. No...it's not. It's a new swish 3d pixar-esque animation, but about the only thing the same as the books that I remember are the characters. Big Ears ('Pumpkin') is not Noddy's friend but a relatively minor character, and instead Noddy hangs out with a little black girl (not a toy as far as I can tell). The stories are very bland standard plots for children. It's very santised and PC and boring, which makes it even funnier that Noddy is called 'Oui-Oui' in French, which is decidedly NOT a PC name when you think it in English. I marvelled, and the little boy caught on and kept asking me 'is that bizarre too?' 'and that?' 'what about that'. Still, I've learnt some useful words from it: pumpkin, fob-watch and goblin.

I'm up to 3 now in the count of people who've mistaken me for a. a frenchwoman and b. someone with a sense of direction. Maybe I just have a helpful face.

The only other new thing today, is that I'm starting to get slightly cheesed at all the English words that the French use WRONG. I've no problem with them using our words (easier for me) but it's SO annoying to be corrected when I ask for a bottle of shampoo (it's 'shampooing' in French) or to have to say that I'm going to 'do the jogging' because 'jogging' is not a verb in French. 'Sandwichs' is also on the list, as are all the brand names they use for everyday things eg., 'kleenex' and 'scotch' (tape). If French comedians want to mock the English I'm told they just bugger up the genders of everything and it's apparently HILarious. I've seen some pretty shocking examples of franglais around the place (a building called 'Square Primerose' is the worst offender to date) which is not a problem in itself but I think it fully justifies me butchering their beautiful language, which I'm doing with great aplomb these days.

A demain...!

almost chocolated out. Possible? Answer pending...

Macaron-A-Day # 5: Chocolat

Ah, the French do like their chocolate. There's chocolate cereal (Hello! Chocolate Special K), chocolate milk, chocolat chaud, pain au chocolat, chocolate yoghurt, chocolate mousse. I'm surprised they don't make chocolate cheese (actually, they probably do...). Hardly a day goes by when I don't eat something chocolate, and it's not because I'm trying.

So it's not really a surprise that there's a chocolate macaron. This was lovely - like chocolate mouse, or a really good chocolate sponge. But at the end of the day, I like my chocolate straight.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

finding that lemons are surprisingly hard to photograph.



Macaron-A-Day #4: Citron

This lemon macaron reminded me almost exactly of the flavour of my Nanna's lemon meringue pie. It had the super-sweetness of condensed milk balanced by the sharp tang of lemon juice.

The texture of course was different, and on the whole lighter, but had a similar crunch mixed with a slight chewiness.

I think this one might also have had the tiniest dash of rosewater, which gave it a lovely delicate floral note.

PS. My Nanna says the trick to a good lemon meringue pie is to use under-ripe lemons.

Monday, 25 February 2008

in Turkey...

Macaron-A-Day # 3: Rose

Ok, no not really, I'm still in France.

But this little macaron made me think it for a moment.

Flavoured with rosewater, without being overpowering; I wish I'd had a peppermint tea chaser.

Anyone who drops by is welcome to demande that particular combination - I'll be happy to oblige since I'll enjoy sharing the feast.

(PS. perhaps the way it's cracked in the picture will give you an indication of the texture. Light and crispy on the outside, soft and almost gooey on the inside.)

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Saturday, 23 February 2008

in FRANCE.

I think the point of this poster is that you should obviously just jump on a plane because it's rainy and cold and horrible and miserable here. Only it's not... this poster faces the Bordeaux equivalent of Victoria Square, only it's actually good. And now we've apologised to the Indigenous people, we can exploit them for tourism with impugnity!

Also, the *translation ('Alors? Quand est-ce que vous debarquez?': 'So? When do you disembark?') is kind of dissatisfying.

I'm being very cynical but actually it was so nice to see something (anything) from home that I stopped and took a photo (obviously).



This is the funniest video ever. And explains so much. And is pretty much how I feel all of the time.

contente.

Yesterday turned out to be quite a fun filled day after all. After my morning class I went and found lunch, which ended up being a croque monsieur, which is a ham and cheese toasty, only with the cheese on top. Apparently a croque madame has egg. I went and got my CV printed (four copies, four espressos, and THEN i found a typo...yikes!), and went hunting for the four English schools from the yellow pages which seemed the most likely prospects. I only found one (and and no job there) - the others must've been well hidden. I've been thinking maybe I should try and find a job doing something completely different but not requiring contact with the public or intensive training. Like being a macaron maker!

I then went down the Rue St Catherine again in a re-hunt for the Camper shop, which turns out to not exist, but I did find the shop which stocks the campers, and a lot of other lovely shoes as well....sigh. I also found a shop which sells those beautiful glass lalique rings, and I thought I was onto a bargain until I realised the number I was looking at was the colour code, and not the price. About 100 espressos. Ouch.

I stopped and had a house iced tea at my new favourite cafe (free wifi), which was nice but ridiculously sweet, and I don't think there was any tea in it. More like a fancy too strong cordial. I also had a salted caramel icecream at an 'artisan glacier' which was very nice, but not as good as the one in San Francisco. I do definitely think that Australia should get on board with the salted caramel flavoured things though, because you're all missing out, I can tell you.

I went into La Poste and luckily stumbled across a shop assistant eager to practice her English on me. It wasn't good news though, because postage to Australia is stupidly expensive - 24 euro per kilo. I also found a local cinema which shows a lot of films in their original version, so I'm going to go and see Sweeney Todd tomorrow (in English) I think. Movies are good value here at about 3.5 espressos.

En route (and yes, that does work in French as well) to the wine tasting, a lady stopped me to ask for directions. The conversation went like this (in French):

Lady: 'Excuse me Miss, I'm SO sorry to bother you, but I'm not from Bordeaux and I really have no idea where I am and would you please be able to help and give me directions because I'm just...'
Emily: (In French): 'Um....uh....excus....LADY. STOP. I.... am.... a... forennn.... forain.... foreigner! Sorry!'

But still. At least I look the part! Apparently.

The wine tasting was incredibly interesting, and actually understood nearly all of it (admittedly I knew the topic in advance, and the lady spoke very clearly and slowly)! It went for about 2 hours, and I really learned a lot about wine that I never knew before. We got to taste the pure flavours of sour, bitter, and tannic (without knowing in advance what they were, otherwise I would'n't've had such a big gulp of the bitter one. YUCK!) which was interesting, and the lady also had this awesome 'book' with little bottles containing the pure scent of all the flavours found in wine (strawberry, holly, honey, grapefruit etc etc etc). Unfortunately I only liked one of the four wines (a sweet sauternes) that we tasted and I thought the others were pretty meh, which I doubt was the intended response. Also, the lady kept saying things like 'oh, yes we have very high standards of wine in France because we have such strict rules about things...as opposed to, say, Australia [looking at me pointedly]' so it was kind of uncomfortable, especially since I was in the front row. I also learned that 'sirrah' is the French word for 'shiraz' so that stuff I had in the Napa Valley was nothing new after all.

Today I got up and played some kiddy playstation with the little garcon which was actually quite useful for me, because I learned the colours, how to count and the alphabet, all of which I was slightly fuzzy on as well as the names of lots of animals. Pooh bear has the weirdest voice in French though.

I came into the city and had lunch at a little cafe I've had my eye on. I rocked up at about 11;45 and asked for the house soup, only to be told that they wouldn't serve me food until 12, so I had a cafe and waited. The house soup turned out to be a broth with noodles and carrots (quite like chicken noodle soup without the chicken) and at 2.5 espressos is about as cheap as anything gets here, but is still pretty pricey for what it was (although it was nice). The (male) waiter turned up a little late at 12:15 and greeted the (male) owner with a kiss on both cheeks. That still cracks me up. Fortunately as a foreigner I seem to be excused from all the kissing. Although the kids 'make a kiss' for me each night which sometimes borders on a lick. Ew. Anyway. The waiter had an ashtray on a table just outside the door, and on his way from the cafe to the outdoors tables would have a puff on the cigarette he had going. Funnily enough, that stuff doesn't bother me so much anymore. The French have a much more lax approach to food hygiene, and there's not much you can do but go with it.

I went to the supermarket to buy some afternoon tea since lunch was rather insubstantial. I also bought the ingredients for my dinner (ricki lake spaghetti and a fennel salad), some conditioner, and some nasty cheap vinegar and salt since apparently that's what I need to stabilise the ink in my jeans. I also had to buy a plastic bag because they don't give them out free here (good) which cost 1/10 of an espresso. I managed to spend about 18 espressos. Eek. Which they convert into Francs on the docket for you, and I'm not sure how that works, because it doesn't exist as a currency anymore. After the supermarket I went to find the shopping mall toilets, which I discovered cost 1/5 of an espresso to use. What the? They have lady sitting there to take your money and everything! I also found a cheap black t-shirt (I'm running low) from H&M for 3.5 espressos. Nice.

I wandered down to the Public Gardens which are just beautiful. I was going to hunt out the Japanese garden, but couldn't be bothered with my big bag of shopping The Public Gardens are huge and lovely. There's lots of big grassy areas and it's all surrounded by lots of beautiful old buildings. There's a carousel (so pretty! reminds me of the one in Mary Poppins) and lots of trees and statues and an icecream stand. There are heaps and heaps of people here, sitting having picnics, playing soccer, juggling, reading, playing guitar and just generally enjoying the nice day. There's also lots of couples pashing. Well, I guess France is just not the country to be sqeamish about public-displays of affection. Unfortunately for me. I've just eaten my second lunch (wholegrain baguette, brie de meaux, strawberries, juice, lindt 70%) and now I'm continuing to read my Tintin and the 7 Crystal Balls, (which after the bookshop incident, I discovered you can buy in the supermarket) which is teaching me all manner of useful things, including how to swear like an old-school sailor: 'mille millions de mille milliards de mille sabords de tonnerre de Brest!'.

Friday, 22 February 2008

drinking a cafe very quickly.

Macaron-A-Day #2: Amande

Who here likes marzipan?

I don't.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

growing sideways.


Macaron-A-Day #1: Framboise

Canale-A-Day would rhyme better, but there's only one kind so it would be a short series.

This one was raspberry flavoured (I think...if it turns out it was strawberry I'm going to feel silly).

It was good.

I really can't describe the consistency properly. Crunchy like meringue but not so dry, dry like a biscuit but not so hard, soft like a cake but not so crumbly. The icing in the middle is nice too - not too solid but not too runny. Not too saccharine sweet, but nice and vanilla-y, even if it's not vanilla flavour.

This didn't taste like real raspberry, but neither did it taste like fake raspberry flavour. When I was little I had a little strawberry shortcake doll which had a sweet strawberry scent. The taste of this macaroon reminded me of that.

blue bum.

This week has not been terribly exciting I'm afraid. The weekend is not boding any better, but you never know...wow, how quickly I've gotten complacent. Not terribly exciting...but still in France!

On Monday I went to classes in the morning and then fluffed away the afternoon. I went for a hike down the Rue St Catherine which is the longest (pedestrian only) shopping strip in Europe. I was looking for the Camper shop but didn't find it. I think it might be in a little shopping mall, or perhaps just a section in another shop. I also went to Monoprix to buy some snacks, so that I don't have to keep running to the chocolate machine mid-morning. I haven't quite decided if Monoprix if posh or el-cheapo. It feels posh(er) but it's cheaper than my local supermarket. Anyway, predictably I found myself in the 'international' section (despite everything being international to me) and bought a drink called Royal Soda from Martinique. I don't think I've ever had anything from Martinique before! It advertised that it has has an 'arome banane' but actually it tasted like (fake) banana, but with the aroma of housepaint. It was drinkable but I wouldn't buy it again. I also bought some nuts, the most savoury looking muesli bars I could find (only 1600kj/100g!...) and one of those old-school pens with the four coloured...ink dispensers? Le French is ruining my le brain...

Anyway, I also went to the local supermarket and managed to find the tissues this time (and the Lindt again). It turns out the French prefer those individual packs of tissues, so there's heaps of those in big multipacks, but hardly any normal boxes of tissues. Which explains why they were hard to find. I had better not catch a cold because I suspect those wonderful aloe vera tissues don't exist here. Which is kind of funny for a country obsessed with ailments. In the afternoon, I went to the English bookshop to ask for a job, but no joy. The man said you really need to speak French to find a job in Bordeaux. Nuts.

Tuesday was not an interesting day, but I did buy some raspberries. Yum, yum, raspberries. I've decided to start valuing everything against the price of an espresso (1.2 - 1.8 euros), because compared to the AUD everything here is stupidly expensive (except wine) but I can get a better picture of whether something's cheap or dear in relation to the local earning capacity by tying it to a known quantity. Raspberries represent exceptional value (to me) because they cost the same as an espresso. Beer represents exceptional value because it costs less than a cup of tea. Cups of tea represent bad value because they are more than twice the price of an espresso. For a teabag. Although you do get a nice pot of hot water, so you can have two or three cups of (progressively weaker) tea from your ONE TEABAG.

On Wednesday afternoon I went to a cooking class organised by the school, but held at a place that specialises in cooking classes called the 'Atelier de Chefs'. It was good fun, but I don't think I learned anything I couldn't've just gotten from the recipe. We made chicken crumbed in oats and spices with rocket pesto mashed potato. We cooked in groups (somehow almost all of the class was Spanish-speaking so I was a bit out on my own) and then sat down and ate the fruits of our labour afterwards. It was very tasty and very easy and I think I'll probably make it again, but it really amazed me how clueless some people are about cooking. I mean, everyone eats, right? Watching people peel potatoes, for example, was hilarious. And try to mash them with a spoon. After that I went for a walk in my running park, and took some pretty photos. They have at least 3 kind of ducks here: the regular little brown ducks, the big white ducks with the orange bills, and the lovely ducks with the velvet green heads like in picture books. They also have geese and swans. They make interesting playmates for the kids in the park.

Oh, and did some handwashing in the sink. It turns out that my new jeans from Anthropologie are leaking ink ridiculously. I think they must've been reincarnated from a toilet duck, because I rinsed them at least 10 times and the water was still going dark blue. In fact my nails got stained blue...if anyone has any suggestions on how to freeze the ink I'd like to hear it, because I'm too scared to wear them until it's fixed. I'm worried if it rains they'll stain my shoes to start with, and also last time I wore them I turned the toilet seat blue...

Today I had classes all day. I went for a run afterwards in the pretty park, and then came home. I've been watching Belle and Sebastian this week with the little garcon which is bizarre. I assumed it was French (or at least European) because it's set in the Pyrenees, but actually it's Japanese. Which means watching it in French is no more accurate than in English. I remember watching it myself when I was very small, but literally all I could remember was that Sebastian is the boy, and Belle is the dog, and they're searching for Sebastian's mother. I can't say I've gleaned a lot more from the 4 episodes I've now watched, except that there's another (teeny) dog in it called Pouchie. And it's dated pretty badly. Maybe next week I'll talk them into watching Babar.

Tomorrow I'm going job hunting in the afternoon (I'm going to try a few of the bigger English schools) and in the early evening I have an 'introduction to oenology' thingy. I'm not sure what I'm doing on the weekend, but my family's going out on Saturday night to a party, so I think I'll have a quiet night in. I'll cook my own dinner (Yay! The food here is excellent, but I'm really looking forward to cooking again, and doing something with my hands) and maybe have a nice relaxing bath. Aaah, can't wait.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

in a hurry!

By special request: a photo of French macaroons. Ain't they bewdyful?

(Don't look at the price. If you only buy one, it's not so bad...).

Also, Ayumi nominated me for a Make My Day Award! So sweet! I'm hereby passing it on, but since I've whittled down my blog feed considerably since my internet is sporadic, I can't choose the requisite 10 unfortunately (at least not without naming blogging superstars, which I suspect is not the point), or notify you all. And to all of my friends with lovely blogs but don't update them: go ahead, make my day! =)

Ayumi: my super secret pal - right back acha!
Elsie: US adventurer extroadinaire.
Hannah: dually nominated for annoying me that I don't write as well, and with more education.
Zac and Sof: Elsie's cousin - these guys totally crack me up.
Nick: Keeping it in the family - he takes beautiful pictures.
Shawn: Random stranger. Hello!

For other (famous) blogs which make my day, see the sidebar.

Also, I think I might've frightened some of you off of emailing with my story about my horrendous phone bill. Don't worry - it seems to have stablised now, and anyway, if worst comes to worst, I could always fiddle with my phone settings, even if I can't get through to Orange.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

frileux.

I can't believe they have a whole word for that. It means 'sensitive to the cold'. I must be in the right country.

I'm really getting into a bit of a routine now. Get up (early, to avoid the little boy walking in on me starkers), eat (chocolate 'wellness flakes' or fruit), walk to the bus, go to school, have lunch, go to school again, or fluff around on the internet. Come home, play with the little boy (drawing, or whatever other game I'm told), eat dinner, shower, do homework, go to bed. Repeat. So now I just have to give you the variations on the theme.

On Wednesday, I had my first bout of job hunting. I decided to go and apply at the place where Rosie, Kathy and Alice work, so I looked it up and made the trek. It turned out to be an admin office only, and seriously in the sticks. Luckily it was on my bus line, but it was after the last stop, and I had to walk for another 15 minutes. I got a bit worried when the footpath ran out, but eventually I found it. Unfortunately no job, but at least it was a first step.

Thursday: school, Friday: stuff around on internet. Actually most of my Friday internet stuffing around, was trying to figure out how I've managed to use 35 euros of phone credit in one week! The lady in the Orange shop told me I had to check my bill on the internet, although of course easier said than done, and I couldn't find it, nor could I find out how to cancel the email option which I suspect is causing the problem (even though it should be capped at 3 euro a month). I suspect I'm going to have to call the helpline, which I'm putting off with all my might.

Friday was also the middle day of the Braderie, a big sale that Bordeaux has once a year for 3 days. All the shops set up stalls in the streets and sell all their back room rubbish for knock down prices. I didn't spend much time there, and the only thing that temped me was a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, which are normally 70 euro here (as opposed to 70 DOLLARS in Australia), which were down to 35 making them almost reasonable. I resisted however. It's werid that they're so expensive, but then the Asics Tigers which are WAY expensive at home are about the same price as the Converses so I don't know what's going on.

On Saturday I went on a big bus trip that was organised by the school. I thought it was a wine tour, but actually it turned out to be a much broader tour of the Medoc region. We went to one winery (first thing), got a brief tour and a glass of wine each (at 10am!). It was a 15 euro bottle of wine, and I have to say, although it was nice, it didn't taste particularly different from the Cab Savs from home, for all the crazy regulations they have here. We spent a lot of the day on the bus looking out the window at pretty chateaux, and stopped for a lovely picnic lunch. We saw the biggest lake in France (can't remember the name...fake beach and I had a Magnum and they're better in Australia) and another lake, and finally ended up at the sea where there were CRAZY europeans surfing despite the fact that pretty cold day for it (0 degrees). It was a nice day, but I wasn't really in the mood to be honest, and I think it would be a better region to explore by car, and to have the ability to stop and look at things that interested you. Still, it has piqued my interest in trying more French wine.

At the end of the day I went back to the supermarket, and finally found the tissue ('kleenex') section. It seems the French don't like the normal boxes of tissues and most are sold in those individual plastic packs, which explains how I missed them the first time around. For dinner with the family, we had 'Quick' which is the French version of Maccas. It's much better I have to say, and the burgers are kind of a cross between a normal burger and a steak sandwich. Fast food here seems to come with fat chips (almost like wedges) instead of French Fries, which are reserved for kids meals. Weird. After dinner we watched a movie called 'Les Aristos'. I didn't undestand a word of it, but it was basically about a crazy aristocratic family who've managed to run up huge debts. The movie centers around them finding zany ways to pay off the debt. Two stars.

Today I got up super early and went for my Couch-to-5k run in the beautiful park. I've been a bit stuck in part two of week 6, but today I decided it was time to break the cycle. Part three of week 6 is a 25 minute run (which explains the holding pattern), but I decided to go for it. In the end I ran for a whole 30 minutes, which I think technically means I've reached my goal of being able to run 5k/30minutes. I'm going to go back and finish the rest of the 8 week program, but I'm feeling very pleased that I'm now a proper runner! It helped that I discovered that my ipod has a stopwatch that you can use while listening to music. Excellent!

After that I went into the city and had a quick look around the Marche de St-Michel, which is a big Sunday flea market in the city. It was quite cool though, because, being Europe, among all the rubbish there were some amazing antiques. I even saw a square piano (those desk looking ones like in Jane Austen movies)! I had a good sandwich for lunch (the sandwiches are better here, I think because the standard of cheese is universally better. It annoys me though that the proper French plural of 'sandwich' is 'sandwichs') and another pain-au-chocolat which I'm growing quite the fondness for. Everything else in the city is closed on Sundays though, which is a bit of a shame.

Now I'm back at the internet again, and off home tonight to do my homework, and maybe try and figure out a job hunting game plan. I've found an English bookshop so I might ask there, and also I think I'll try and sign up at an employment agency and see if they can find me something. After that, I guess it'll be back to the English teaching rounds, and maybe au-pair-ing as a a last restort. I've decided to take classes for another month, and stay with the host family for March as well, which means that the pressure's off a bit. It also means that I'm in limbo for longer, but I really think trying to find a job/apartment/life in effectively two weeks was a bit insane!

Now that I've been here a little while, I'm starting to get more of an insight into things. Bus seats are the same horrible (blue with coloured flecks) pattern the world over, no matter how nice the public transport system. Although the women are not incredibly fashion conscious here, the overall standard of dress is much better. Almost no-one looks like they got dressed (or went shopping!) in the dark. Knee-high boots over pants are still big here, so you can all look forward to that again next winter in Oz. The men are not all good-looking (sorry Karin), but they do also dress a lot better (scarves are totally accepted and not at all gay) which helps their cause significantly. The French are not great apologisers - I seem to be saying 'pardon' all the time, but rarely do I hear it. There are a lot more dogs here - little and big, and they're often to be seen off the leash. They go everywhere with their owners, and it's not unusual to see them occupying seats on public transport, and even sitting next to the table in restaurants. The (few) homeless people often seem to own big dogs too, which freaks me out. Although I haven't had any amazing food yet, everything is decent and I think the average standard is much better than at home. Obviously fast food is accepted here, but apart from that and all the cheese and bread, the food is on the whole a lot healthier I think. Lunch is often a sandwich (by which they mean a baguette) with ham, cheese and salad, or a meat dish with a buffet salad, or a vegetable entree. As far as French delicacies go, we're getting totally ripped off in Australia. You can get a *big* wedge of Brie de Meaux (the real stuff) here in the supermarket for about 2.5 euros. They also sell Moet in the supermarket and it's 30 euros. That translates as a bit under $60, which is significantly cheaper than in Australia, but when you consider that their earning capacity is higher anyway, it really is annoying. On the upside, maybe I can try it now!

I think that's all for the moment. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment! I miss you all - please keep emailing and keep me in touch with what's happening at home.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

just about hanging in there...

Sorry it's been so long all y'all. L'internet, il ne marche pas! My access been a bit sporadic, so hopefully I can remember all that's happened in the last week.

Everything's going pretty well. I've been on an unrelated emotional rollercoaster for the last few days (yes, yet another - surely I've had my quota for the year? I must be in for some seriously good karma is all I can say), which has marred things quite a bit, but hopefully I'm slowly clawing my way back up to square 1 now. That aside, I think I quite like it here. The weather's fair (just like Adelaide actually) and the food's good. It's a very pretty city and for all the crazy one way streets, it seems very livable. I think it's big enough to be interesting, but small enough not to be too anonymous and overwhelming. The one thing I don't like is all the dog 'crottes' on the road - they don't have to pick them up here, and it's pretty gross. You really have to watch where you walk. I really have no sense of direction, and am still walking around with map firmly in hand. The only thing that's really sunk in is the route from the house to the bus, which involves all of about two turns.

My french is improving...I think, although it's possibly just that I'm getting less bothered about just spitting out whatever happens to make it from my brain to my tongue, regardless of whether it will bruise the ears of the poor frog I'm 'talking' to. I've been moved down a class (I told you I was bad), which I think has actually been a good thing. I wanted to stay in the top class, because I wanted to be challenged, but I think in the end it was SO much of a challenge that everything was sailing straight over my head, and I wasn't learning anything for all the effort just spent on trying to figure out what was going on. The new class is much better, and we've been learning about indefinite pronouns. I'm not very good at it I'm afraid, and I'm looking forward to the day that I can understand enough of what's going on around me to learn grammar by feeling the rhythm of the language, rather than learning rules and piecing it all together like Lego (without opposable thumbs).

I can't remember at all what happened Thursday I'm afraid - I had classes in the morning and the afternoon so probably not a lot else. I'm pretty sure I had my first pain au chocolat then, which was so delicious. It almost tasted like it had custard inside, but I think it was just the lovely lovely pastry. I possibly went into a big big bookshop, bought a copy of Tintin and the 7 Crystal Balls in an attempt to learn French, and accidentally bought the Spanish version instead. Oops! Returning it was a giant saga, because I found the book I actually wanted, waited in line at the counter for ages (and it turns out queueing is an Anglo thing anyway, so it was more a case of me being pushed in front of for ages) only to be told that I had to go somewhere else first. I waited for ages at the help counter (same scenario) to find out that I had to go back to the section where I bought the book (kids section) and then get the return ok-ed by the salesperson there, and THEN go back to the sales counter and actually exchange the book. I now have 10 eurocents credit to my name and an hour less of my life.

Friday during the day I'm similarly vague on, but Friday night I went with les Anglaises to a concert organised by the Alliance here. The first band ('Fada') were great, obviously trained jazz musicians playing a kind of fusion with very clever political rapping over the top (not that I could understand any of it). I'd be interested to see them again at a time when it won't go straight over my head. The second band (the 'Spoke Orkestra') were truly awful, a cross between rap and metal and I could've lived without seeing them! Still, it was good to get out at night, to do something different and something I probably would've been to lazy to do at home, and I found that catching the tram home late, and walking back to my house is actually pretty safe, and relatively unscary, especially considering it's not something I would ever do at home. That's lucky because otherwise i just wouldn't be able to go out at night!

Saturday morning I got up and played with the kids a bit. We played 'oui et non' and 'petite et grande' which got a bit confusing when it morphed into 'oui or yes' and 'petite or little'. The little boy says 'yes' in the most perfect Australian accent though, it's hilarious! He's started wishing me 'adios' now too, which is a bit bizarre and unexpected. I think he thinks that because I don't understand most of what he says, I'm a bit simple. We've also been practicing writing together, and (because I can't explain anything to him) I'm happy to say I've improved a lot at cursive...backwards.

I tried to eat my vegemite for breakfast too, which was a bit of a failure. They do actually have (what looks like) normal bread here. It's called 'American' bread and it looks totally normal so I chucked some in the toaster and away we went. Once I put the vegemite on though, I realised it tasted all wrong. The bread, despite looking normal, actually is extremely sweet and tastes more like McDonald's buns, or almost like a croissant. In that context, the vegemite was just no good. Perhaps when I have my own place, I'll have to bake my own bread for breakfast, or maybe have teeny slices of baguette (which you really do see people carrying around here). They do actually have bread with almost every meal here, but they don't have bread and butter plates - you just put it on the table.

I went for a run on Saturday morning in a huge park nearby, which was just beautiful with a big lake in the middle and an old mansion on the grounds. I ran on the path, because it seemed to be the done thing, but when my knees starte to hurt I asked the security guard if I could run on the oval. He looked bemused but said yes, and later I realised why. Obviously running on ovals is not the done thing, so the ground was very very soft and uneven. Oh and there were geese everywhere. I think the danger to my ankles running on such bad ground was probably as high as to my knees from running on asphalt, but the view is not so good!

After the run, I went into the city. On the way to the busstop, I passed the local supermarket, which seems like a bit of a Coles equivalent - huge and cheap and nothing special. It's got a huge carpark out the front, and on that day there was a huge outdoor food market! I didn't go close, but it looked great! I wonder how they got the supermarket to consider that good for business...maybe it's a French thing. It spilled out onto the street, and the last stall next to my bus stop was a huge stall selling nothing but many different kinds of oysters. They must've been super fresh too, because they didn't smell at all. Quelle bizzare!

When I got in the city, I went to sit outside the French school and scab their wifi from the street. I must've looked like a complete crazy person sitting on the footpath talking to my computer! While checking my email, I discovered that my cousin Nick was coming to town that afternoon! He's been travelling all around Europe (see his blog in the sidebar - he may well have some pretty photos of Bordeaux up soon too) and due to hotels and planes being booked out, he came to stay for the weekend. I went to pick him up from the train station, and since I was a little early I stopped at the cafe across the road to have a cafe. (Ordering 'a coffee' here means you get an expresso, which I'm growing to like because they're significantly cheaper than any other drink you can get). The waiter asked me where I was from, and when I told him, he said I was 'tres cooool' and gave me devil fingers!

Once I found Nick, and we did a quick tour of the city, and we ate some more canel├ęs and I tried a proper French macaroon. I wasn't really that excited about them, because I've never liked macaroons at home, but these are completely different! They're much smaller to begin with, and come in all sorts of pretty pastel colours and flavours (we tried vanilla, chocolate & raspberry, and salted caramel). It's basically two biscuits with some kind of soft filling, but the biscuits are light and lovely, kind of a cross between a meringe, a biscuit and a cake, and the flavourings are delicate and a bit gourmet. Yum yum yum. They're pretty cheap though (in an absolute sense anyway), so I think I'll be going back for more. We had dinner at an English pub and I headed home for the night.

Sunday we caught a train to Arcachon for the day, which is a seaside town, on the advice of my host family. Nearby there is a big dune, which is a 'site of national importance' and apparently the view is outstanding. Unfortunately though, the bus to the dune doesn't run on Sundays, and the taxis are on strike (it is France, after all). So we just kicked around the town which was quite pleasant. I think it would be a really fun outing in Summer, but after all, a beach is a beach, and although nice, didn't quite compare to the beaches at home. The Atlantic is a different colour though. We had icecream and I headed back home, where we had McDonalds for dinner ('McDo's') and it really is the same the world over.

Yesterday I went to school and I had a bit of a messy day really. I wanted to start job hunting, but the internet broke, the printer ran out of ink, I got back too late and the school I wanted to drop in to was further away than I thought. Everything takes so much longer here, because my French slows everything down immeasurable. Perhaps tomorrow I will make it. In the evening, Nick and I went for dinner, and we had Moroccan. We both had the same tagine, and it was very nice, if a bit sweet after a while. It was great to see Nick, and it seems like he's really had fun travelling around. I was feeling a bit bad that I convinced him to come down here, since I didn't end up showing him much, but he said he thinks it's the nicest city he's visited so far, apart from Stockholm. That's a relief, and I'm glad I randomly ended somewhere good!

Today I went to class in the morning, had a salad for lunch and then spent the arvo finally in front of a working computer. That has really been all there is to it! Funny how quickly one gets into a routine... I'm receiving emails on my phone now which is good, but unfortunately I can't send them, and as I've mentioned, internet is sporadic at the moment. Be assured that your emails are getting through to me, and if it takes me a little time to reply, it's just circumstance I'm afraid! Still no photos until I have more reliable internet, because they take so long to load, sorry. I must say, being even a little cut off from the internet makes me feel quite cut off from home - I guess I've gotten to rely on it for lots of things - so hopefully the situation will improve soon.

This week week is looking pretty static, but on Saturday I'm going on a wine tour, and who knows what will turn up between now and then!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

still here.

Things feel like they're getting better here ever day, although I'm still only on day 3 so perhaps that's a bit of a premature statement.

Yesterday was a long, long day. I caught the bus in the morning, which was a little harder than on the first day because the driver had turned off the sign that listed what the next stop was. Still, the buses are way nicer and more reliable than anything I've seen anywhere else ever. I had regular class in the morning (lots of talking) and in the afternoon the twice weekly extra grammar class. I liked the grammar class better because it was more structured, written (meaning I had more time to think through my responses) and there was less likelihood I was going to be put on the spot. Everyone else seemed to think it was SO HARD though. Maybe it's just that I'm way out of my depth so the difference between REALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE and SO HARD for me just isn't that significant.

For lunch we (the British girls, the Spanish lady and the Swiss guy [who I accidentally called a German...oops]) went and found a yiros shop. It was very cheap and so I decided to choose on the safe side and go veggo, which in hindsight probably wasn't necessary. I got a Pannini Provence, which had blue cheese in it among other things. It was ok. Finding decent and cheap food here doesn't seem to be a problem - that was about 3 euro.

After class for the day, I tried to connect to the WIFI at the school, and, waHAY, ce marche! I think skype might still be out for a while (the family's laptop seems promising but they're internet is kaput atm) but at least now I have access to fast and reliable and free www. After that I went home again, stopping by at the supermarket for the obligatory Great & Obligatory Supermarket Excursion for France. It was a big supermarket that basically approximated Coles I think, but they had some bizzare stuff! They had a pretty big exotic fruit section which a bunch of stuff I'd never even seen before - for example sugar cane amongst other things. They sell shoes. They have bolognese flavoured chips (although the chip section was relatively tiny, so I guess the French aren't that into them) and sell TsingTsao by the bottle. All the cereal (bar the Special K which was all 'fruit' flavoured) had chocolate in it, which sort of explains my daily chocolate 'Wellness Flakes' (at first I thought it was an excellent excuse for chocolate for breakfast, but now I think it'd be better saved for weekends...). And I guess the French don't have runny noses because I couldn't find any tissues (les kleenex) anywhere. I tried using my Australian credit card for the first time, and it worked fine, although it was a bit of a palaver because they copied down all my driver's licence details.

For dinner we had lasagne, and I watched 'Ratatouille' with the little boy (I'm assured it's a French movie but I'm not convinced) which was quite helpful as I can listen and read the subtitles at the same time. 'Skippy' (I wasn't feeling very creative at 8am when he found her - designated a her because she has a pouch) the petite stuffed kangaroo has been a huge hit although he won't believe that kangaroos go 'tuh tuh tuh' and hold their paws under their nose. They just bounce apparently. And receive millions of kisses.

Today was the same routine - bus, class etc. I found out that 'le bon pied?' is a request for me to confirm that the shoe is going on the right foot. I had rabbit pasta for lunch, with a bunch of students - the same ones as yesterday (plus another Adelaidean(!), a Korean (who I accidentally called a Taiwanese...oops!) an American and a Brasilian. It was in a little restaurant which I probably wouldn't have chosen, but it was the plat du jour and everything else was a little complicated. It was ok, but I don't think I really like rabbit that much, and I would've prefered something vegetable based to meat and pasta. The restaurant itself was exactly what you'd imagine a little cheap French restaurant to be though, right down to the wine already on the table when you arrive (red, surprisingly good considering).

After lunch we went on a tour of the sights of the city. I really enjoyed it because I discovered it's an even more beautiful city than I thought when you know where all the nooks and crannies are. That being said, I can't say too much about it, because the tour was in French and I didn't pick up that much, and most of what I did catch I've forgotten. Bordeaux is over 2000 years old, and we saw a few cathedrals, the hotel de ville (town hall I think), some statues, streets, buildings etc. Lots about Eleanor (Aileanor) d'Aquitaine. A funny (strange, not haha) moment when the tour guide was telling us about the faces carved into one of the biggest buildings (not sure what, by the river, has a gallery in it). There are hundred of them, all different and all significant. She pointed out one of a black woman and said it represented the fact that Bordeaux was an important slave port. The funny thing was, she said it in the context that at that time it was when Bordeaux was a 'great commercial city' and implied that slave trading was just another form of commerce that made the city so vibrant at that time...bizzare...

I actually piked on the tour a wee bit early, as I and the English girls were very tired from walking for hours and really needed a coffee. I ordered a mint tea and discovered why all French drink coffee - it's about half the price. If you order just a regular coffee here though, you get an espresso. We also tried a canele ('can-el-ay') which is a local speciality - it's an individual sized cake, somehow originally made from the by products of wine. It did taste vaguely sherry like, and had an interesting chewy texture. We went by the bookshop, where I bought the new textbook that I needed, and a copy of TinTin, which I've now realised is in Spanish. DER. I also went into an Orange shop (French Telecom) and bought a new simcard for my phone. It massively stressed me out, and I went red as a beetroot, but I had one of the English girls to help me, and actually it wasn't that dificult. AND the sales assistant told me that I couldn't get email on my phone (which the internet had told me I could) and she was wrong because I just have. Nice to know that even when I don't speak the language I can outsmart the telecommunications industry.

This evening I walked past an Asian restaurant/teeny grocery store on my way back to the house, which weirdly made me feel more at home. We had pasta with pesto for dinner, and I actually spent a fair bit of time talking at the dinner table. I'm improving I'm sure. I don't know that I know that much more than when I left home, but on Sunday I could barely spit out 'ouis and nons' and today I could reasonably often say what I wanted to, abeit extremely slowly and badly. I also watched Ratatouille with the kids again and did some drawing with them.

Again, I'm massively tired - it's after midnight and I haven't done my homework yet. Urgh.

For those people in the real world: I'm back in the loop communications-wise - I've got internet at the school, and email on my phone, and a new French number that I'll be sending out. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to put photos up here for a while because it's a slow process (I'll update these posts with them when I can) but I'll put them on facebook for you.

Monday, 4 February 2008

heading ever further east.

I arrived in London after a long and uncomfortable flight - i got two seats to myself which was lovely, but it turns out that two is not enough to sleep on - you need more like four. I caught the tube to Sarah's house, which was a bit of an adventure with my giant luggage and one train that randomly stopped half way, and a driver that forgot to turn on the lights in the tunnel (and actually announced that it was all his fault!). Also, it seems that the horrible blue bus upholstery with the coloured flecks is universal.

I made it to Sarah's and stuffed around for a few hours trying to decide whether I should eat, sleep, shower or explore first, which should give you an indication of how tired I was. I decided to eat shower sleep explore sleep in that order and for the exploring part I went down Putney High Street and then walked along the Thames which I had been assured was quite beautiful. The high street was funny - the first thing I saw was a big red double decker bus...with Harold from Neighbours (plus koalas and kangaroos of course!) plastered all over it. So weird. I had a bit of a look in the supermarkets (no lamb and mint chips i'm afraid) and took some pictures of the cute pubs - they actually name them things that in Australia would be totally tongue in cheek, but seem to somehow get away with it. The Thames was actually a bit dull - maybe the English have a different concept of beautiful, but it was a bit muddy and hard to follow because the path kept getting cut out by people's private gardens. Perhaps it would be nicer in the Spring. I went out with Alice for dinner at about 9:30 and went went to a random pub that was the only one still selling food. I ordered a mushroom stack, which turned out to be a rather lacklustre open sandwich with about 2 button mushrooms, some tomato and wilted lettuce, but I was so happy to see vegetables that I didn't really mind.

On Saturday I went with Sarah to Essex to take Ben hovercrafting. It looks like awesome fun, but if anyone's considering trying it, I recommend you choose a warm day. After that, we went on a whirlwind tour of London's sights - St Paul's, Pudding Lane and the Tower & London Bridges by foot, and then a bunch of others quickly driven past - Westminster Abbey, No. 10, etc etc. I wasn't too worried about getting them all in since I expect I'll be back sooner or later, but it was fun to see how amazingly close they all are together and how higgledy-piggledy London really is.

We ate at a little pub where Shakespeare used to hang out (I had some nice lamb shanks - 2 days and stll Mad Cow free thankyou). It was very cute with big dark wooden beams everywhere. I also had some spotted dick for dessert which turns out to be a kind of fruit pudding with custard (actually quite similar to my Mum's Christmas pudding only not as nice [only because Mum's is so good]).

After dinner Sarah and I went on the Great & Obligatory Supermarket Excursion which was actually a bit disappointing because it turns out that Australia and England share a lot of the same foods (or at least confectionaries). Still, I got to try Lilt, which I've been wanting to for literally years (a bit disappointing but then I don't like grapefruit), some fetta chips (a little bit too accurate), some jaffa biscuits (really quite gross) and a Caramac (tastes just like a Milky Bar).

On Sunday, we left for the airport at 8am - yikes! I made it through the Heathrow lines relatively quickly by opting for the only manual check-in line and then sat around for a couple of hours while my plane was delays. Finally go on the plane (again, Qantas can be proud of how much better they are than everyone else). Flying across different countries is quite interesting in itself - Australia looks dry, America changes every few minutes and has weird circular fields (I think they must water from the middle), England is...I can't remember...and France looks like a big patchwork quilt. The flight from London to paris only takes 45 minutes.

Once in Charles de Gaule I had to choose between two customs lines - the one staffed and saying 'EU citizens only' and the unstaffed one saying 'all other passports'. I chose the latter and got yelled at by a French border policeman who then barely glanced at my passport before waving me through. Yippeee! My luggage arrived (double yippeee!) and I went in search of the bus ('car') bound for Montparnasse train station. I chickened out and asked someone at information 'parlez vous anglais?' which worked out quite nicely when they gave me perfect directions. I got on the bus about 5 minutes later, and 50 minutes later got off the bus at Monparnasse, right next to the interstate trains bit, where I waited for another two hours and 45 minutes. I sat down and ordered a hot chocolate, gave the nice waiter 5 euros and waited for my changed and waited. And waited. And waited....eventually (despite my horrible ordering) I decided to ask about it, and embarassingly it turns out that a hot chocolate in a paris train station actually costs 5 euro. I've seem them on menus in Bordeaux now though, and that price actually IS a massive ripoff even for Europe so I don't feel so bad about asking now.

I got on the train (remembering to 'compost' [validate]) my ticket before entering, and after having minor fights with my luggage, set off...backwards. Lucky i don't get motion sick...um....

I arrived in Bordeaux at about 9pm and couldn't see anyone who was looking for me anywhere. I decided to wait outside the station, by the 'meeting point' and the tourist office. I guess it wasn't such a good idea, because in the end I had to call my host family but we found each other eventually.

My host family is super lovely which is a huge relief. I have a very cute little room with my own toilet and basin, and they've even bought extra fruit since I said I liked it. The mother speaks no English but the father is pretty fluent, which I think is a good combo - it forces me to speak French when possible, but when I get really stuck there's someone to fish me out. The little kids are very sweet too, and the little boy gave me a picture he drew today because I lent him my petit kangaroo (which he doesn't know yet is actually for him). Hurrah, France is a return to the land of dual-flush toilets (as an aside, they were invented in Australia by the husband of the current honorary French consul in Adelaide...so actually I suppose i shouldn't be surprised that they turned up in France as well) but their showers are totally wacky. It's like a showerhead on a hose, with nowhere to hang the hose when you're not holding it with your hand, and no showerscreen either. I guess the advantage is that you can direct the flow nicely, but I'm not sure how you're supposed to get the shampoo out with only one hand, and I've taken a squatting approach (so as to be able to put the showerhead on the ground when reaching for something else) which I'm not sure would be the officially recommended approach, but I'm not in a hurry to ask either. Thankfully no bidets encounered as yet. Am not looking forward to that explaination.

Today was my first day proper. My host mum drove me to the school, and I'm in the advanced class with about 12 other people, mostly my age, and from all around the world (Russia, China, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, Switzerland among others). I must've done a good job guessing on the placement exam because I've got absolutely no idea WHAT is going on in the class. Everyone else seems to be able to speak not only in whole sentences but whole paragraphs, whereas I'm managing only to understand about a third of what the teacher says, let alone engage my own brain/mouth connection. I feel like my mouth is permanently full of jelly and I just can't get the words out in any sensible semblance of a sentence. I spent the morning class litterally terrified, with a knot in my stomach the size (and shape) of the cathedrals we saw this afternoon, hoping that I wouldn't be asked a question that I couldn't even understand let alone answer. Mercifully it was ok, perhaps thanks to me trotting out my old uni approaches of chiming in quickly at an easy question, avoiding eye contact with the teacher and looking blatantly like i was about to cry (which I was). This was the low point so far. Hopefully I dont' have a repeat of it tomorrow.

After that though, I made friends with the two English girls in the class (cheating a bit perhaps, but thank God for them) and we went and had lunch together and wandered around the city in the afternoon. We found a cheap cafe for lunch where I had a salade compose (mixed salad with cheese, ham and chicken - pretty good for a basically boring and cheap salad) for 5 euro. Both of the girls are about my age and really lovely, and they managed to calm me down a bit from 'omygod what on earth am i doing here' to 'ok, it'll be ok...maybe it'll even be good...!'. Bordeaux is a very pretty city, all over the place like London, and the cyclists don't wear helmets - completely insane! All of the buildngs are gorgeous and I constantly felt tempted to take pictures of what I'm sure are just boring apartments. We saw the river though, and a couple of cathedrals (St Andre and Notre Dame?), the former of which we went into and it was huge and spectacular and about 800 years old (!) and the of which took some seirous hunting to find because it was hidden in a courtyard behind an arch. We also stopped and had a peppermint tea which was most refreshing and just what i needed and saw the shopping street which is apparently the 2nd largest commercial strip in France (not that impressive i'm afraid, but lots of Louis Vuitton etc...).

I returned home, which had been stressting me out all day (I had to catch the bus) but it was fine in the end. I was worried I'd get on the bus going the wrong direction, or not get off at the right stop, but the French busses are lovely and new (more like our private coaches than public busses) and have an electronic display telling you the name of the next stop which helped me no end. I got a bit lost at the giant roundabout where i got off, but eventually found my way home.

For dinner we had a very nice chicken dish (like a risotto but i don't think it was) and salad, and of course cheese for dessert. I've spent the rest of the evening washing my hair, doing my homework and on the computer, and i shold stop now because it's after midnight and i need all the brains i can get my hands on at the moment. Goodnight.