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

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 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.

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