Sun, Sea and Sicily

Sun, Sea and Sicily

My trip to Sicily was a dream; I absolutely loved it. We enjoyed 20 degree sunshine, stunning views, and diverse landscapes, with something different to do every day. It’s a beautiful island full of amazing things to do and see, and my only qualm in the otherwise crystal-clear waters of the trip was the fact that the school trip was so busy that we were constantly tired and rushing around. However as assistants and not teachers, Val and I had the best of both worlds. We enjoyed drinking wine at the adult table, and having our own room in every hotel we stayed in, but we didn’t have to be responsible for the students in any way or do any of the organising! Luckily, because we were with 160 seventeen-year old students in three coaches, so things got a bit chaotic at times!

Sicilian Highlights:

  • Zingaro Nature Reserve, on the north coast of Sicily. I can’t get over how beautiful it was, the natural landscape was absolutely breath-taking- an unspoiled paradise! We hiked together (imagine 180 people waking along an occasionally single-track path, it was quite a sight!) to the beach and back. (See featured image) DSC_0183
  • The Valle dei Templi in Agrigento was a collection of the most well-preserved Greek temples I have ever seen, standing proudly together on the hilltops. We had a tour-guide with us as we explored the valley, and she was very informative and interesting, as well as giving everyone plenty of time for photos!DSC_0218
  • Siracusa was the picture-perfect seaside tourist town I had been longing for after the packed hustle of Palermo. Cobbled pedestrian streets, charming cafĂ©s, and great gelato, all framed by the glittering blue ocean. We went on a boat-trip out into the bay and back again, which was a very relaxing way to spend an afternoonDSC_0249.
  • Another unforgettable hike was in the Mount Etna nature reserve. Etna is an active volcano, and smokes continuously. In fact, on the day we went it had erupted only the night before, and we could see the trail of larva which it had produced producing its own smoke-trail as it wound its way slowly down the mountain.

School-trip lows:

  • SO MANY long days! We were in the coach every day at 8am, usually with our suitcases packed to move on. We would do one activity in the morning, one in the afternoon, and then drive to our next hotel, sometimes arriving as late as 9pm.
  • As is traditional on school-trips, we took the coaches from school all the way to our destination, which meant a very long journey indeed. We drove all day to Genoa, then took a 21hr ferry to Sicily, and did the same on the way back.
  • The guided tours of Palermo were really not great- the tour-guide had a strong accent even the French students found hard to follow (which made me feel somewhat better about my French comprehension skills!), and we listened through cracking earphones to a speech about a lot of religious history.
  • Picnic lunches, traditional school-trip style- one ham roll, one cheese roll, one piece of fruit. Sadness. I didn’t even manage to eat any Italian pizza!

The trip made me realise how lucky I was to be placed in my school, and how genuinely nice and friendly the students and teachers both were. I will miss my students: grinning at me and yelling ‘HELLO’, how they didn’t want to go back to their real English lessons after having fun with me (in my last week we listened to Ed Sheran), and the way we danced together at the awkwardly-sober school-trip disco (but that’s another story!)

I will also miss all of the friends I made in Charlieu and Roanne. The teachers in my lycĂ©e and collĂšge both had going-away meals with me in my final week, and my adorable neighbours gave me two bottles of alcohol to take back to England with me! My assistant family will be missed the most: Hellie, Val, both Maddies, Sara and Rachel. They all made my time as a rural assistant not just fine but FUN, and I can’t thank them enough. See you soon gals!

It has taken me so long to write this blog because I’ve been busy with yet another adventure, this time a slightly more serious one. I have moved to Paris, and am doing a 6-week internship working for a French PR company. It is hard work speaking and working in French every day, but I can already feel my language skills improving! The next update will be about la vie parisienne for sure…

Salut!

Advertisements

From the Alps to Amsterdam! (Part II)

From the Alps to Amsterdam! (Part II)

Continued from From the Alps to Amsterdam! (Part I)

Train lodgeWe stayed in Amsterdam in one of the most quirky hostels I’ve ever seen – a converted sleeper train. We loved the interesting concept, but it was maybe not the most practical hostel. There wasn’t much space in our tiny little three person cabin, and we were lucky that our roommate was super accommodating and didn’t mind us making noise. It’s also lucky that I’m 5ft2, and not 6ft2!

We did a different thing every single day of our stay in Amsterdam, and never ran out of things to do! I’d definitely love to go back in the summer; rushing through Vondelpark in the rain wasn’t quite the same. We did stuff with the other Maddie, also an assistant from Roanne, and her friend Michele most of the time we were there, which was lovely.

A brief summary of what we got up to:

Tuesday: Arrival. Had a delicious curry for dinner!

Wednesday: Fun and interesting free walking tour of Amsterdam. Dinner with my friend Ella from Birmingham.

Thursday: Rock the City Tour- Heineken Experience, boat ride, A’DAM Lookout. The Heineken experience wasn’t quite Cadbury’s World, but we did get free beer.

Friday: Anne Frank’s House in the morning, which was probably the most moving and significant part of our holiday. It is ESSENTIAL to book tickets for this in advance, but it’s well worth the hassle. The Rijksmuseum in the afternoon, which was good but we found the big central gallery very crowded, echoey and noisy. I really loved the 20th century art exhibits.

Saturday: Indoor food market and a second hand book market, which I walked away from with only one book. Achievement. Dinner at the Hummus House (heaven on earth), followed by some drinks for the other Maddie and Michele’s last evening.

Sunday: The Van Gogh Museum, which was amazing! I learned a lot about the history of art through the progression of Van Gogh’s work, and the history of the artist himself.

Monday: Back home, 7am flight (cry).

 

DSC_0176I loved the friendly, welcoming feel to Amsterdam, as well as its picture-perfect canals, cobbled pedestrian streets, and bicycles everywhere! My favourite bicycles were the ones with special buggies for multiple children on the front- clearly in the Netherlands having a family is not a valid excuse for needing a car.

Amsterdam wasn’t particularly expensive, everything was about on-par with France price wise. However, this can soon add up if you’re there for a week eating out every day. The most expensive part of our trip was the museums, which were about 18 euros each, with no concessions for students. They were definitely worth going to, however I’m used to free museums in the UK, or at least large discounts for under 25s in France, so it came as a bit of a shock.

The week after coming back from this wonderful adventure was pretty miserable- I worked on my Year Abroad essay all week. This essay counts for 100% of my grade this year, so it was a pretty big deal. Luckily, many of my classes were cancelled because the terminales had mock exams, which meant I had plenty of time to try my best to correct my French grammar.

This weekend was great: I’d handed in my essay and could enjoy myself with my friends without feeling like an irresponsible student. I spent lots of time with my Roanne girls, which was lovely. After a catch up and drinks Friday night, we woke up on Saturday to discover that due to a crazy heat wave it was 20 degrees! So we all headed to the park, to play cards in the sunshine. Saturday night we celebrated Hind’s birthday with her, which was really fun. I hope she had a good evening with us all!

DSC_0221On Sunday Hellie and I had a Lego Movie day- we watched the original film in the morning, and went to the cinema to watch the Lego Batman Movie in the afternoon. It was as hilarious as the first film and I would definitely recommend it! We also went for a nice walk around the Marina in Roanne in the afternoon together, which made us realise that it’d be awesome to live on a boat and spend our days sailing around the Med… maybe when we retire (and learn to sail!)

 

Bises

From the Alps to Amsterdam! (Part I)

From the Alps to Amsterdam! (Part I)

The holiday system for schools here in France means I get a two-week break in February: bliss! During my first week I went skiing with my family, in Les Menuires, which was so much fun. It was great to see them all again, and share a week of alpine fun together. I then spent a week in Amsterdam, which was great: there was so much to see and do and it was such a wonderful city. I haven’t had any time to write this blog due to being busy exploring new places, but also because I spent last week slaving over an essay for the assessment of my Year Abroad. Still, the time for a mega-blog catch up has finally arrived! This blog will be posted in two halves; part II will be online tomorrow.

The day after school finished, on Saturday 18th February, I took two trains to meet up with my family on our way to the ski resort. Unfortunately the traffic absolutely crawled along, and we ended up arriving at the resort about five hours behind schedule. Not good news for anyone, but I felt especially sorry for my dad who had been driving all day. Still, we got there in the end!

Our apartment was in a complex of buildings right next to the slope, meaning we could literally ski to the front door, which was so convenient! It had a great bath, which I’m always thankful for, but I’m especially thankful for after skiing all day. It was the perfect place to spend time unwinding with my family. I did a lot of reading, and we spent the evenings playing cards and eating cheese based food (tartiflette and fondu of course!)

I spent the days skiing with my dad and brother, over the enormous expanse of runs that are part of the Trois VallĂ©es: Val Thoren, Meribel, St Martin and Courchevel.  We usually met up with mum for lunch. She doesn’t ski any more, but I hope she had a good time anyway. The last time I went skiing before this was four years ago, whereas both of the boys went last year, so they are both better than me. Especially Pete (my brother), who would occasionally zoom down a red slope and wait for us to join him several minutes later at the bottom.

DSC_0150I also took the opportunity to visit my friend Anne, who is working in Meribel on her ski season this year. It was great to see her, and we spent 24 hours together eating nachos, skiing, and having a good time at aprĂšs-ski of course! Meribel was definitely the most ‘British’ place I’ve ever seen in France- almost every single person there was British and speaking English, including all the staff, and pretty much the whole resort seemed to be owned by the same British company. Britain came to me without me needing to go home!

After my family drove back home, I spent three days in Lyon preparing to go to Amsterdam. I wrote most of my scary Year Abroad essay and did laundry. Then I was off! Kind of. Maddie and I were at the airport, ready to go, when it was announced our flight would be delayed by four hours, which eventually turned into five hours. Perfect. Luckily the terminal had good wifi and we were able to watch Netflix, but it wasn’t the ideal start to our holiday!

 

~to be continued~

Part II will be online tomorrow!

 

 

B-day in Barça!

B-day in Barça!

My twenty-first birthday was definitely the best one of my life so far. It was amazing to go away for a weekend with my friends and have a mini- break from everything. I absolutely fell in love with Barcelona, and I would love to go back and spend more time exploring and really getting to know the city. The only downside of my weekend was how short it was- by Sunday evening I was back in Charlieu sleeping in my own bed, and by Monday I was back in school teaching.

The Wednesday before my birthday weekend was spent with my lovely language assistant friends in Roanne. It really meant a lot to me how much everyone cared- there was home-made pizza, cake, and a card that everyone had written such nice messages in. I worked on Thursday, and then Thursday evening took the train to Lyon to stay with Ellie overnight. We even had a kind-of Roast Dinner in the evening with Ellie’s flatmate Katie, which was a lovely taste of home.

On Friday we were off to Barcelona! Ellie and I met Emily at the station, and then took the shuttle train to the airport together. After a slightly delayed flight, we met Libby after her flight, and then set off on the trains to find our airbnb in central Barcelona. The weather was the first thing to strike us as particularly different; the Spanish city was as warm as 20 degrees Celsius during the day, while we were used to a maximum of 5 degrees in France. The other thing that was a definite cultural difference between Barcelona and Lyon was the prices- a cappuccino in Barcelona was only €1.80, whereas in Lyon it would usually cost around 2 euros more.

dsc_0106
Plaça de Catalunya

Arriving in our Airbnb in the Gothic Quarter, we asked our host Ettore where the best place to get tapas was locally. He turned out to be the best host ever, and accompanied us to the tapas bar himself, ordering the food and alcohol for us since the bar was crowded with locals speaking catalan. Ettore then took us to his favourite bar, which served delicious and very cheap cocktails. A few drinks later I confessed that it was my birthday, and returned from the toilet to find that he’d popped out to create a ‘Birthday Cake’ for me from buns, squirty cream, and candles. The whole bar stopped to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ for me, which was both surreal and kinda embarrassing! By this time we’d started talking to a few international students in the bar as well, and the group of us went on an impromptu tour of Ettore’s highlights of Barcelona: we ate some Venezuelan street-food, passed through a weird inside rain-forest room, and went by the outside of Gaudi’s house. We finished the night chilling out together in Ettore’s front room, and ended up going to bed at a reasonable hour so that we could spend a full day exploring Barcelona on Saturday.

dsc_0129
With my palace! (Sagrada Familia)

On Saturday we spent a lot of time in the labyrinthine streets of the Gothic Quarter. There were dozens of cool vintage clothing shops to explore, as well as coffee shops and tapas bars. For lunch, we found a reasonably priced vegetarian restaurant, which was another big difference between Barcelona and Lyon- having a choice of vegetarian food, as well as cheap lunchtime food from all over the world, was certainly different to France! In the afternoon, we enjoyed a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter, which was super interesting. We then took the metro to the famous Sagrada Familia, and took a lot of photos. Unfortunately we were too late in the day to go inside Gaudi’s masterpiece, but the outside is very impressive also!

Saturday evening meant we had to start thinking about separating and returning to France the next day. We had a nice relaxed evening together, eating a lovely meal of traditional Spanish tapas, before heading to the Barcaloneta beach to chill out for a few hours. Libby had to leave us fairly early the next morning, but Emily, Ellie and I managed to get some delicious Greek food for lunch before heading back to the airport.

The next week was fairly uneventful as I was catching up on my work, and worked Monday as I had taken the day off Friday. The next Friday I went to play volleyball with a group of teachers for the first time, which was nice but also embarrassing because I was SO bad. Unlike in France and America, volleyball is not taught in British schools’ PE lessons, and so I spent a lot of the evening chasing the ball around and trying to understand the rules. We went to a house-party in Roanne, where I spent a lot of time speaking French and faire la bise (kissing people on both cheeks). It’s very rude if you don’t do this to everyone when you enter a room and when you leave, and I’m finally starting to get used to it!

dsc_0146
Last glimpse of Barcelona…

The rest of my weekend was relaxed but nice- Hellie and I got some lovely pizza and freshly-made smoothies on Saturday, and had a fun Saturday night with Maddie. Yesterday I worked all day at the college, so I’m very tired today!

Today I’m looking forward to spending Galentine’s Day with my Roanne ladies; I intend to eat a lot of pizza and hopefully make a pink cake! On Saturday the holidays commence again, and I’m off to  Les Menuires to ski with my family before going to Amsterdam with some friends.

 

 

Feeling incredibly lucky to be able to profit from my Year Abroad and do all this travelling…

Bonne Saint Valentin ❀

A Festive Weekend!

A Festive Weekend!

This weekend I travelled to Strasbourg, self-proclaimed ‘Capital of Christmas’, where wonky but charming brightly coloured houses line the cobbled streets, and the delicious smells of the Christmas market are inescapable. As if that wasn’t enough to get me in the holiday spirit, I also spent Thursday evening attending my first Thanksgiving.  Continue reading “A Festive Weekend!”

Toussaint Travels

Toussaint Travels

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but don’t worry everyone I’m still alive, and I haven’t become so used to speaking French that I’ve lost the ability to update my blog in English (I wish!) I’ve been keeping myself busy over the Toussaint school holidays.

I spent a whole week in Lyon at the start of the holiday, which was fantastic. Lyon is such a wonderful city! I honestly can’t recommend it enough- it has all the charm and character of my hometown, but unlike Charlieu it is a lively, bustling centre, where something is always going on. Continue reading “Toussaint Travels”

From Lyon to the LycĂ©e

From Lyon to the LycĂ©e

This week I’ve really become adjusted to my surroundings. I’ve met the majority of students I’ll be working with for the next few months, got a lovely group of assistant friends in Roanne, and feel much more confortable speaking French than when I first arrived.

Last weekend I went to visit Lyon with my Language Assistant friends. We stayed in Lyon overnight on Saturday, which meant we had a full weekend of touristy fun to look forward to!  Continue reading “From Lyon to the LycĂ©e”