Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 14 - the end of two amazing weeks!

Hard to believe it's only been two weeks since I left home, but here we are.

It’s snowing again today! Some serious snow this time, none of that ice on the cars stuff, we’re talking walking home from uni to find your black coat white. And remember, uni is about a two minute walk! Lots of fun!

On my way home for lunch, I walk past the same little patisserie with the most delicious looking gateaux and macarons and truffles. Today, I finally caved and bought a little strawberry tart to savour. It was delicious! Don’t worry, I didn’t eat it all in one go, saving some more for dessert. And maybe tomorrow if I can make it last…

Of to explore Clermont-Ferrand tomorrow afternoon, capital of the area. Should be fun, hopefully not too cold!

Missing you all xx

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another quick update...

Something that has been seriously lacking here are hot chocolates. Everyone drinks coffee! Even at the supermarket drinking cocoa is hard to come buy.

Luckily though, these people LOVE nutella, and I now have a recipe for a rather delicious nutella hot chocolate. And it's PERFECT considering I don't have a kettle.

Heat a cup of milk and one or two teaspoons of nutella on the stove. Whisk until hot and frothy and nutella is melted.

Serve! Delicious. I'm in heaven!

Day 13

We’ve had some beautiful sunshine for two days now. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, but the sun is nice.  Hopefully I’ll be exploring some of the nearby towns this week, lots of fun stuff in the cultural program!

Something I’ve discovered here – the variety of Special K flavours available kills anything that we have at home. I currently have Apple Crumble flavour, and I intend to try more!

Speaking of food, I had some delicious pumpkin soup for dinner last night (and lunch today). Starting to collect condiments, which means meals are starting to improve!

I checked out the market yesterday. Lots of beautiful fresh food. Craving berries but the ones here are terrible. Apples however, are delicious.

So is wine! And it’s so cheap! Hahahah

Sending lots of love back home xox

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Days 10, 11 & 12

Nothing particularly interesting to report, life is beginning to feel normal. It finally looks like I’m living here – food on the shelves, suitcase unpacked.

We’ve had some snow over the past few days, so it’s lovely to see the sun out today!

Was supposed to be climbing the Puy-de-Dome yesterday (a local volcano, apparently the second most visited natural site in France) but it fell through due to bad weather. Maybe sometime soon!

I am craving fresh cookies and a pork roast. I need an oven!


Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 9

It snowed today! It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, it was more like slush on the cars, but still, it’s snow! Discovered this around 11pm after a few drinks, so we went downstairs to play with it. Covered in ice and dripping wet now, but it was worth it. Built the most pathetic snowman in the history of snowmen, he actually looked a little like Kermit the frog.  So much fun!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Days 7 & 8

Day 7 and 8

Wow, a lot has happened in a week.  No wonder I’m feeling quite exhausted! It’s hard to believe it’s only been a week. 8 more to go!

More classes today. Starting to feel a bit more comfortable which is nice. I’m really enjoying being immersed in the language, vocab is growing every day. I now know how to explain a murder in French. Handy, something everyone should know…

Went to the cinema last night, the university shows two free movies every week. This one was about a family, and the film was broken into each member’s experience growing up, and each started where the previous left off. It was interesting, difficult with no subtitles!

We have Wednesday afternoons off, which is nice. I was planning on exploring Vichy but it’s raining! And I pulled out my umbrella for the first time today to find it’s broken. Going to have to buy a new one!

Caught up with a few of the guys from ‘uni’ for coffee, then I finally got out for a little bit and took some photos of the town.
These are Vichy Pastilles (yup, made here) and they are sold in the confectionary shops. They're little white octagons. I'll try and bring some home with me!

Chocolate and sweets galore! There's lots of little patisseries around the place. Don't worry, I'm not eating all the cakes. Not yet.

Bienvenue à Vichy!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


My local supermarket has Tim Tams!
Just like home...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 6 - Vichy & the start of Classes

Vichy, just like any good European town, has a two hour break for lunch. I love this life!

First day of classes today. Started early with a test and tour of the university, before starting classes. Good to know I have been placed at the level Monash told me I should be, would be devastated if it was lower! But it’s tough and nothing like Monash. EVERYTHING is in French, we’ve even been given a dictionary. Not a normal English – French dictionary, but a French dictionary. It’s fun – you look up the definition of one word, don’t understand the definition so look up a word from that. Confusing to say the least, but hopefully my French will improve exponentially being here. My teacher is very fun, and the class is small, so I’m happy.

Used the lunch break to do some more shopping. Slowly stocking up the fridge so I don’t have to do this every day, but even though it’s a short walk it’s difficult with too many shopping bags. Grabbed an almond pastry for lunch from the university restaurant.

Afternoon class was similar to the first, but with a focus on grammar. Classes finish around 3:30 and then there’s cultural activities or private study or you go home. I stayed and studied for a little while, before coming home to do my washing.

Absolutely exhausted tonight, so much new vocab running through my head. My favourite word thus far... d'accord. It's the simplest word, and all it means is OK, but I thoroughly enjoy using it!

Day 5 - The Trip to Vichy

Decided to make a lazy day of it after a very busy week. Got up late and had breakfast in the hotel – croissant and orange juice. Took a taxi to Gare de Lyon. Have no idea how the roads in Paris work. Everyone seems to go in every direction, especially when it comes to a ‘rond point’ or round about, and yet they manage to do it with some degree of courtesy and without killing each other. Although the amount of sirens you can hear may have something to do with that…

Gare de Lyon was a whole other story. It makes no sense to me. There are two different stations – those with numbers (yellow) and those with letters (blue). And there’s currently renovations going on so it’s a bit messy. Add some rain and a rather heavy suitcase and it made for lots of fun. Hence why I planned to arrive there two hours before my train departed.

I survived! Travelled first class, which isn’t as luxurious as it sounds. Although I didn’t see second so maybe it is. Had lunch on board – another baguette with ham and cheese. It felt similar to being back on an airplane again – lovely lady comes round with a little trolley of food. Almost reminded me of the Hogwarts Express! The views travelling across France were gorgeous. Lots of little green farms and houses with smoke rising from the chimneys.

Arrived in Vichy to be greeted by a lovely French man who forced me to talk in French the whole way to my accommodation. And by the whole way I mean 5 minutes down the road, because, as he said, Vichy is ‘un petit ville’. You can walk anywhere you need to go in under 10 minutes. It’s sweet and not only is it small in number of people, but everything seems to have been downscaled. The streets are about half the size of those back home, as are the cars. There’s no way my magna and I would survive here.

My little box of a room is very cute. I want to pack my closet and bring it home with me, its beautiful. Little kitchenette with a bar fridge, stove and microwave. All set. The bathroom is TINY and you have to manoeuvre around a lot to dry yourself if you want to keep the door closed, but the shower is big and the water is strong and hot so I’m happy.

Was making a list of groceries to buy when I realised I have been craving milk all week! I don’t remember seeing milk in Paris – they have their coffee black and I never even saw a milk shake on the menu. So number one priority – find milk. Bought a bottle, half is now gone, and I feel much better.

I’m cooking burritos tonight on my little stove. Something quick and easy with some lovely vegetables. Yes mum, vegetables. Lettuce and carrot and cucumber and capsicum. Need some colour.

Classes start tomorrow with a test in the morning. Early night for me I think.


P.S. Just met my landlady. She’s very cute, doesn’t speak much English but very friendly!

Day 4 - Montmartre

Late start today, and the first sunshine since I arrived. Still cold, but at least there is sun! Had booked a free tour with this group called Cityfree Tours. They had rave reviews, so considering it was free, I was in. We met at the Metro Blanche for our first stop – the Moulin Rouge. It’s incredibly small, and the windmill itself has never worked as a windmill. Since it’s inception it has been a place for ‘showgirls’, however the early courtesans have been replaced by highly trained dancers. Each show runs for approximately 10 years, simply to cover the cost of putting it together. The current show, Feerie, has been running for two years, and just the costumes in this show cost over 2 million euro. Would love to see a show, but it’s rather expensive. Maybe when I return in January.

Oh, most of the others on the tour were Aussie! Such a small world…

Our next stop was a little café, called Café des 2 Moulins, but better known as Amelie’s café, from the movie. Each time the café is sold, there is a clause stating the owner cannot change the interior, and it looks just like it does in the movie. Montmartre itself was beautiful. Very different from the streets of Paris I have seen for the last few days. The roads are cobblestone and the houses are beautiful with their little balconies. One of these houses was that of Vincent Van Gough and his brother. The further up Montmartre hill we climbed, the more exquisite the views looking back over Paris. It’s no wonder the houses up there are very very expensive.

Next stop was the two remaining windmills in Montmartre – Moulin De La Galette, which is soon to start restoration. Unlike Moulin Rouge, these windmills used to work, and are now very worn down. As we wandered the streets we also noticed some street art – in the form of little mosaics placed on building walls. These started a few years ago, and all carry the theme of Space Invaders. There are now around 2000 in Paris, and have been replicated around the world. They are actually illegal, part of Paris’ way of keeping the streets clean, but the prevalence and popularity of them has meant the city council now recognises them as art and wont remove them.

From here we saw a few interesting statues. The first was of the man stuck in the wall, from a story from a Parisian writer. A very random piece of art, but very popular, and many come to rub his hands for good luck. The next was of Saint Denis, bishop of Paris who converted the small town to Christianity. Late in his preaching’s though, the Parisians thought he was going to far and took him to Montmartre to be beheaded. Legend has it, he picked up his head and continued walking for six days, and the statue shows him holding his own head. The children with us were a little freaked out.

We also visited the very last vineyard in Montmartre. The last vineyard in Paris for that matter. It still produces wine, and in October every year they have a festival to celebrate. Chris, our guide, told us the wine is widely known as the worst and most expensive in the world. 

Our last stop on the tour was the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. Another of Paris’ beautiful churches, but the Parisians don’t like it. It was huge and very busy on such a sunny day. It’s also incredibly white, due to, I believe, the calcium in the stones that cleanses itself. There is also a hidden garden, reserved solely for those who work there and cannot be seen by the public.

This was our last stop, and we were left to tour Montmartre on our own. I headed to the Place du Tertre for lunch, a place where budding artists come to sell there wares, now a place where all the paintings are of the sights of Paris and sold to the many tourists that come here. I had lunch like a Parisian further down the hill, on the terrace of a little café overlooking Paris – Crepes with Grand Marnier. Delicious!

Home for a quick change before heading back to the Champs Elysees for my last night in Paris. I had dinner at a little restaurant called Alsace. Entrée of French Onion Soup, main of chicken and clafoutis for dessert.  Great last meal in Paris. I’d say the soup was the best I’ve tasted, but I don’t remember the last time I had it so I’m going to stick with it being excellent.

After dinner, wandered through the stalls of the Christmas market. Mainly food, which was a let down seeing as I’d just eaten, but I did get to try ‘vin chaud’ – hot, spiced wine. And it was delicious! I’ve never had anything like it and it was great on a cold night. Will definitely be going for that again. More incredible views made for a wonderful final night in Paris.

Off to Vichy tomorrow. Fortunate enough to have a first class ticket so should be a relatively comfortable train ride. Will update when I arrive!


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just a quick note...


Thank you Paris, for giving me one day of sun while I'm here. Such a pleasant change from yesterdays fog.
Also, the cliche is true - Parisians have small dogs. Even the men have little dogs. And they take them on the Metro with them. And when the dogs get scared of the escalators, they get carried.

Off to enjoy the sun! xx

Day 3 - Chateau Versailles & Musee du Louvre

Very early start this morning – Metro and RER to Versailles. Thought understanding the Metro also meant understanding the RER but I thought wrong. The Metro has line numbers, colours and directions (final station each way). RER has line letter, colour BUT no directions! Instead, they have names such as VICK and JOEL which somehow relate to the station they finish at, which more often than not isn’t the last on the line (where I needed to be). However, made it in one piece and with the correct ticket =D

Arriving in Versailles it was cold and foggy. Short walk from the station to the Chateau, which was rather imposing. A gold gate guards the entrance, but fortunately arrived early enough to miss any large queues. Once inside, it was amazing. The palace now acts as a museum for paintings and artefacts of the Kings and Queens of France. The paintings were divine (the signs saying flash photography damages them were widely ignored), and all the furniture, either the original or a recreation was divine if not over-the-top. There was gold everywhere. Dodged a few groups of tourists and continued my tour of the rest of the palace largely alone, which meant for some nice photos.  And a free audio guide meant I got all the history I could need (little different to the way Ms Scanlon taught it in year 12!). Even got to see the little door where Marie Antoinette escaped during the Revolution.

Outside, the gardens were HUGE. I would love to go back and see them in summer, when the fountains are on and the statues uncovered. It was freezing, but I didn’t mind wandering around, and even after a day I feel there is so much I missed. Deeper into the gardens and you find the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and domain of Marie Antoinette. Much smaller than the Chateau, they also house paintings and furniture from the time of Marie Antoinette and Napoleon.
Marie Antoinette’s domain includes not only the Trianons, but many other little buildings throughout the gardens, including a menagerie and her own country style hamlet, which she had built to escape palace life. Tired after walking around the gardens for hours, took the Petit Train back to the Chateau (larger crowds now!) before taking the RER back to Paris.

Spent tonight at the Musee du Louvre. So much culture today! The pyramids where beautiful, but do look out of place within the old architecture. Reduced entry on Friday nights meant there were lots of students and families.  Another place where I could happily go back and spend more time, there is so much to see! I did, however, get to see what everyone comes to the Louvre for – the Mona Lisa. It’s so mysterious! They have now hidden it behind glass to preserve it (not so for the many other masterpieces??), and for one of the smaller paintings it really does draw a crowd. Also so the Venus de Milo, Wedding Feast at Cana and many many others (photos soon!). Had dinner in the Louvre (traditional baguette with ham and cheese) and once again beautiful views, this time of the Champs Elysees. Chatted to a waiter who was more than willing to point out all the differences from the actual Louvre to Dan Brown's 'The DaVinci Code'. Makes me want to read it again though! Left just before closing and did some shopping, mostly the sort where you look, don’t buy, before heading home to rest my VERY tired legs.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 2 - Paris

Woke up to a dark and cold morning and a devastating lack of internet. Decided to skip breakfast here and went to Maccas down the road to use their internet.
McDonalds is so much better here! They have much more variety – you can get chips or wedges, a burger or bagel or Panini. Not feeling very French, but access to the internet was needed. Made friends with some guys who thought I was French. I had to explain to them I only understood half of what they were saying, but they told me the ‘must sees’ in Paris. Glad to know they’re on my list for today – Notre Dame and the Tour Montparnasse.

Back to the Metro after breakfast, headed for the ‘Ile de la Cite’, which according to our guide on the cruise, was the place where Paris was founded. On this little island you’ll find the Conciergerie, Saint Chappelle and Notre Dame. Saint Chappelle is a little church undergoing extensive renovation at the moment, but it is known for its stained glass windows and it didn’t disappoint. They were amazing. They cover around 2.5 floors, and depict stories like Genesis, the Passion of Christ, and many books of the Bible. The Conciergerie has been both a palace and a prison. It now acts as a sort of museum, with relics of both past Kings and Queens, as well as prisoners and guards. It was here that Marie Antoinette was held before her death.

A little walk around the corner and you can see the Latin Quartier across the Seine, take another corner and there is Notre Dame. It was huge and magnificent and rather imposing. And, as with most of the monuments, heavily guarded. Inside, the cathedral was even more glorious. The little chapels around the edges, as well as all the windows and sculptures, tell many stories. What people come here for, it seems, is not the religious experience but the towers. They warn you, its 400 steps, no toilets, and can only be done in small groups. The wait wasn’t too long, and at first the steps seem ok, but the higher you go the narrower the little winding stairwell became, and years of wear have made it quite slippery.

But the view at the top was amazing. You can see across all of Paris, right across to Sacre Couer in Montmarte. The gargoyles are cute in their own way, and there are quotes from Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, which apparently resulted in restoration work to return the cathedral to its former glory. I went inside to see the largest of the bells, known as Emmanuel, and is only rung a few times a year. Then another tiny winding staircase takes you to the very top of the tower, where the views were once again divine.

After a slow and cautious walk down the stairs, I headed to the Metro to the Champs Elysees. Walked out of the station to find all these little white stalls being set up, for what I believe to be the Christmas market. Hoping to get back there again when it’s finished to see it all.  I continued down the Champs Eysees, watching the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, and checking out the shops as I went. I would have happily bought many items here, but when a pair of gloves is 100 euro, you start to think it’s not going to happen. Except maybe in the Monoprix (think Target, but with food as well).  A lovely baguette with ham for lunch, before visiting the Arc de Triomphe. It’s rather unfair that one city has so many incredible monuments.

MORE STAIRS! Sitting here now my legs are aching from all the stairs I’ve climbed today. But once again, the view made it incredibly worthwhile. Similar views to Notre Dame, but the wonder is in seeing the streets of Paris laid out in their wheel and spoke pattern, and gazing back down the Champs Elysees. After going back down the stairs, I stopped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a very moving sight. Back to the Metro to return ‘home’ for a brief stop before heading out tonight. One of the doors in the station hit me (security is good, it would be pretty hard to get in without a ticket, but they make it hard even when you do) square in the nose. Not bleeding, not broken, but I think it might be blue tomorrow. How embarrassing!

So nose is definitely bruised. There had to be some sort of accident, at least it’s only small =)

Went to the Tour Montparnasse tonight. I believe it’s the tallest office building in Paris with beautiful views. Everything that was lovely during the day is even more beautiful at night. Dinner was a chicken salad and for dessert, an éclair chocolat.

Day 1 - Flights & Paris


I have just checked into my hotel room after 21 hours flying. It’s 3pm here and roughly 1pm back home but surprisingly I don’t feel too jetlagged. Fortunately, on both flights I had two seats to myself, so I could sleep in relative comfort. Arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport only to find my transfer wasn’t there. I wasn’t the only one though, and met an Aussie guy waiting for the same transfer and just when we were making plans to take the train he finally showed up (one hour late!!) and we headed off to our accommodation.

After reading the reviews for this place I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised on arrival. The staff are very friendly, I have a double bed all to myself, and a rather large bathroom, and speaking to some other guests, I’m very very lucky. The fun/worst part is the teeny tiny lift. It says it can fit two people and maybe it can fit two French people but otherwise there’s some serious invasion of personal space happening.

What better way to spend your first night in Paris then to go see the Tour Eiffel. I am extremely proud of myself for working out the Metro system, which means I can get from the hotel to anywhere in Paris in less than 20 minutes and for about 1 euro. The system is amazing and fast and so long as its not peak its relatively comfortable. If we had something like this back home, I wouldn’t be so averse to public transport.

ANYWAY, I took the metro to the Trocadero, walked around a corner and it hit me. The Eiffel tower is GORGEOUS. I took some photos from the Trocadero, which means you can get a nice view of the entire tower. I then went to the tower itself, and after seeing the queue decided not to climb it today. It was about 5pm and around 3 degrees and the queue was still enormous. I’d hate to see it in summer. There’s all these men floating around selling ‘illegal’ souvenirs of the Eiffel tower. After seeing the price of the actual souvenirs, I know why they’re so popular. The armed soldiers don’t mind them, but the police turn up and they scurry away. I bought dinner from one of the little vendors under the tower (crepes chocolat) and wandered through the Champ de Mars as I ate. And just when you start to accept how beautiful it all is, the Eiffel Tower lights up and blows your mind. It was a billion times better at night.

I had booked to do a cruise down the Seine, so that’s where I headed next. Everyone was waiting out the front but I decided to go in and just as well. I ended up third in line and seats right up the front. These two lovely old English ladies sat next to me, and we had a wonderful time seeing the sights of Paris all lit up.  The entire boat was encased in glass, so it wasn’t too cold and we had beautiful views of the Eiffel tower light show, Notre Dame, the Louvre and many many more.  After the cruise, I went back up to the Trocedero for more photos of the Eiffel tower, this time at night, and to catch the Metro back ‘home’.

Until tomorrow!