Vado a Padova… domani!

So my six weeks of travelling/milling about at home enjoying a bit of R+R flew by incredibly quickly – the most action-packed February I’ve ever had! The fabulous news now is that, tomorrow, I will be flying to Italy where I will be embarking on my next Erasmus semester in Padua (expect every blog post from now on to be pizza-related). Up until now, I hadn’t really thought about how excited I am because in the meantime I have had a great time travelling on a budget to – yet still managing to spend far too much money in – Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Norway and of course back home with the family. But now the penny has dropped – I am going to Italy tomorrow for the first time in my life, and will be staying a whole five months! La vita è bella I tell you…

Before I set off on this new adventure (please Easyjet give me a seat with adequate leg room), I should probably tie up a few loose ends. I haven’t quite managed to keep up with my blogging, so in order to provide a little summary of my winter travels, here are some of my favourite pics taken in various locations over the past month or so. I’ll say now that I am far from a professional – or even halfway decent – photographer, but I try to take quick snaps of things a little bit different that invoke particular random memories. (Brace yourselves for wonky/blurry photos…)

Brussels:

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

Faces of the different nationalities of the European Parliament

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Le Manneken Pis – Brasil 2014 style!

Paris:

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“Love is Dead” – not exactly something you’d expect to find spray painted onto the streets of Paris!

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Incredible cakes at a bakery near my friend’s flat. No idea what they were, just that after one delicious mouthful I knew that I had probably maxed out my recommended calorie intake for that day…

Celebrating Sarah’s (bottom right hand corner) 21st birthday in style – with a classic Eiffel Tower selfie!

Amsterdam:

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Remembering Nelson Mandela

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One of the many canals I got lost walking down (preparing for Venice)

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“Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening” – I read this in a restaurant whilst munching on a yummy (fattening) chicken schnitzel…

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Peekaboo

Norway:

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Lady in Stavanger. My ten year old cousin didn’t appreciate this because of the nudity

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Colourful streets of Stavanger

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Marilyn ❤

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Deserted picturesque seaside town (Norway doesn’t do February)

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty's house - not bad!

Sunny view from my uncle and aunty’s house – not bad!

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A Norweigan man paid me the equivalent of £2 to take a picture of him sat here. I would’ve taken it for free…

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A mosaic created by my Aunty and her former school (British International School of Stavanger), found in Stavanger Airport Arrivals – pretty cool claim to fame!

I have left out the photos of Paris Erotic Museum, where my friend Lauren and I found ourselves with six floors of all things phallic to look at – a weird experience, but definitely an unforgettable one. I guess watching 1950s porn together amongst other (mainly male) tourists just wasn’t our thing…

Anyway, back to the whole point of this post, I’m going to Italy tomorrow!!!! Did I mention that I am just a little bit excited? My first mission should probably to be to find somewhere to live, but with the Venice carnival currently in full swing, I feel that that particular task may be somewhat postponed. A few more nights in a hostel won’t hurt…

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Getting lost in Paris

The weekend of the 23rd January was sadly to be my last weekend in France  for the time being, so what better way to spend it is there than in good old Paris? This was my third visit to Paris and, with each visit, my fondness for the French capital grows. Some may say that Paris is “over-rated” and “too touristy”, and yes, it is very obviously a tourist hot-spot but there is so much more to the charm of this alluring city than the traditional attractions such as Le Tour Eiffel and L’Arc de Triomphe. Don’t get me wrong, these landmarks are a must-see and have to be ticked off the bucket list on a trip to Paris (I hasten to add that there is absolutely no shame in taking numerous selfies with the Eiffel Tower in the background.) However, once these activities are out of the way, I urge you to soak up the atmosphere as much as possible in order to truly appreciate le facon de vivre and to encapture that Parisian charm which is so effortlessly portrayed in many a utopian, lovey-dovey sort of  French film.

My favourite way to do this is to simply leave your map at home, forget about any planned agendas and get lost. This is what I accidentally ended up doing as I set off to find Les Galeries Lafayettes (a luxury shopping centre boasting brands such as Gucci and Louis Vitton situated in a VERY beautiful building). Anyway, after a brief moment of panic as I realised I had left my map back at my friend’s flat and was therefore alone in a foreign city and on a metro notorious for its pick-pocketing professionals, I found an ounce of courage within me and set off on an adventure; “Bobbie the Traveller” had now upgraded to “Bobbie the Explorer”.

After asking several commuters how to reach my destination, and at least a good half an hour journey later, I finally found the galleries and spent a mere ten minutes there before I felt entirely overwhelmed. What was I doing in a place that sold handbags worth more than everything I’ve ever owned?? I also remembered how much I hate massive, over-crowded places where the exits are never completely clear, leading me to feel trapped in some very expensive bubble land. No amount of intricate painted glass and exquisite architecture could make me enjoy this place – in reality it is a shopping centre, and I dislike shopping centres.

So I was therefore left with four hours to fill before my friend finished work and I decided I would visit a Paris attraction which rests among my firm favourites, the Centre Pompidou – a complex with a bunch of street artists performing just outside it. Fun and free: much more up my street. However, without a map and with limited geographical knowledge of Paris, I had no real grasp of how to get there, or how far away it would be. Again, I sucked it up and remembered my new explorer title so didn’t let this minor detail phase me. I figured that it was near Notre Dame, which is along the Seine, so as long as I could find a river I would be halfway there.

Upon this little voyage I found things I wouldn’t normally know how to get to, and places I had never really intended to visit. This included a street of diamond shops with scary looking security guards at every shop entrance. Important looking men would roll up in whatever chauffeur-driven luxury car they happened to own, escorted into the shop where they would spend barely minutes looking for a gift, and then they’d stroll out again triumphant with their purchase. Done deal.

The next thing I unintentionally found was WHSmith Paris. I know I was living in France, meaning that complete immersion in everything French was necessary and thus going into a British shop was absolutely against any rule that I had set for myself, but I couldn’t help but pine after a little bit of Britain from time to time. I therefore had a peek inside to see what I might find; I always find it interesting to see how my own nationality and part of identity is represented and perceived by other nations, so maybe WHSmith Paris could help in giving me a slight insight?

I wasn’t disappointed as I soon found a shelf which represented every sort of food that us Brits are apparently famous for; Marmite, Marmalade, Branston pickle, Heinz baked beans and Colman’s mustard (all other nations must think we eat everything out of tins and cans). Another thing which made me chuckle was the mountain of unwanted mince pies they had on offer, as it very much reminded me of my own family’s cupboards back home. Every year we are left with stacks of leftovers; mince pies are simply no good once Christmas Day has passed!

Feeling slightly guilty after my indulgent British detour, I once again set off on my quest to find the river which thankfully happened to be very close by. Part one of the mission down, all I had to do now was to walk along the river in the opposite direction of the Eiffel Tower in order to reach Notre Dame and then the Centre Pompidou was around there somewhere: easy-peasy. However, I didn’t quite consider how far that might be…

On the walk up the river I stopped off to look at the many second hand pop-up bookshops and was very very tempted to buy an old-smelling, classic piece of French literature which I knew I would never read but would feel very cultural and intellectual for buying at the time. However, having already dumped half of my books at my friend’s flat on the basis that my suitcase was far too heavy (sorry Lauren) I decided against it and instead bought a few souvenirs to take back to my family. These included: a quirky chocolate-based fridge magnet for my Mum, and a poster of a cow with all the body parts labelled in French for my brother – should he ever wish to go into a French restaurant and order a Cow’s tongue, he now has a handy guide to help him.

So maybe these gifts weren’t the most conventional, but I thought they showed a bit of thought and definitely beat the over-priced commercial items of all the tacky tourist shops! Moreover, I got to try and explain to the shop-owner where my hometown (Newbury) is, and talking about Newbury is something I will never tire of doing: (une petite ville historique dans le sud de l’Angleterre, pas loin d’Oxford, une heure de Londres par train, oui je l’aime bien…)

Two hours later…

I finally found the Centre Pompidou and there was absolutely nothing going on, a bit of an anti-climax to my whole mission really. It would seem a rainy Monday in January wasn’t the most popular time for street artists to perform… However, after an initial pang of disappointment, I realised that I didn’t really mind. I had spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly around the streets of Paris and along the River Seine, practised speaking French, spent minimal amount of pennies, and stumbled across places I would had never have planned upon if I were to stick to a carefully thought-out agenda/route. All of this and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time doing it.

So basically what I’m trying to say here is, if you really want to attempt to get to know a foreign city, just find a little bit of the explorer in you and go and get lost!

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Strasbourg – Perfect start to Christmas

It seems odd to write about my very Christmassy trip to Strasbourg only now, seeing as Baba Noel has well and truly been and gone, but unfortunately the majority of December was taken up with a few horrendously painful exams (and catching up on Downton Abbey in a race against time before the Christmas special). So here we are.

As a big lover of all things festive, I had been looking forward to the trip to Strasbourg Christmas markets since first moving to Nancy way back in September. The promise of vin chaud, waffles, crepes, hot dogs and gingerbread had me more than just a little bit excited. However, in the run up to the inevitable Christmas binge I’d had the bright idea of giving up all things bad for me (including alcohol). This meant that all things yummy were completely off limits, which wasn’t so fun! That being said, I found that I could still really appreciate the food products being sold as I was more occupied with how pretty everything was rather than instantly wanting to pig out!

We started the day off with a Canal Tour on a boat which creeped me out a little bit as it seemed it could double up as a greenhouse/some sort of human incubator, and it played hypnotic Pocahontas style music; especially worrying so early in the morning when I was still in a sort of dreamworld.

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However, I was soon reassured when we got moving and I remembered how much I love boat tours – you get to sit there and be lazy whilst all the scenery comes to you, parfait. 

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Seeing the European Parliament buildings was pretty cool, but the highlight was without a doubt seeing a beaver on the side of the canal. Totally unexpected and subsequently I have no photographic evidence as I was far too much in awe of the creature I had only ever seen before in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Who knew Mr Beaver likes to hang out in Strasbourg when he’s not busy backing Aslan in the battle against the White Witch back in Narnia?

The rest of the morning was spent strolling round la vielle ville searching for postcards and then a café for something quick to eat. This was a lot easier said than done as we had picked the first weekend of the Christmas markets, meaning that every restaurant/café was packed with like-minded tourists in seek of half an hour inside in the warm before venturing back outside to explore the markets. We settled for munching on a pretzel on a park bench, and then found a quirky bar that seemed to do every flavoured beer under the sun. However, my diet meant that I settled for a cup of thé vert.

We then did a bit more exploring around the market stalls. Strasbourg and its surrounding region of Alsace is apparently well known for storks, as was evident through much of the produce on sale…

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In the centre of town there was a whole section of a market dedicated to/run by Croatians, which had me reminiscing over my adventures to Croatia last Summer (as if I don’t already talk about it enough).

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A slight detour away from the markets led us to a “hippies shop” which sold everything you could ever possibly need from model campervans to Lonsdale gym bags to “back-belly chains”. Slightly confused as to how the latter two can be described as “hippy”… Anyway we thought we’d have a peek inside to see what other gems we might find, and were greeted by a very chilled out sales assistant asking if there was anything we needed in particular, and if so he would have a look out the back for us. Not 100% sure what sort of shop we had just walked into, we decided to decline the offer and be on our way. 

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The rest of the afternoon saw some “organised fun” in which all the Erasmus students were sent off in teams with a potato, and had to exchange it for something of higher value with any random member of the public. Whilst slightly daunting, this activity was great for learning how to barter in French. Or it would have been if the only person I attempted to make conversation with actually spoke French… I think he was German (perhaps not so surprising seeing as Strasbourg is right on the border). The rest of my team had better luck as our potato slowly but surely transformed into a tissue, then a cigarette and then a yellow rose. Magic.

The evening was spent in a restaurant with an unlimited amount of tarte flambées – basically a yummy pizza/ crusty bread sort of thing with toppings ranging from smoked salmon and cream cheese to apple and cinnamon (at this stage in the day my diet had become near enough impossible). The beer was also flowing and a “who could sing the loudest” competition soon sprung into action between the Italians and the Spanish, it’s hard to judge who won. We then moved onto Strasbourg’s Erasmus bar, “L’underground”. Despite the slightly unoriginal name and the dodgy unlit stairway, this bar was pretty cool and blasted out some great essential party tunes (i.e. plenty of Britney Spears and Sean Paul). A good time boogying was had by all in true Erasmus spirit.

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All in all, my trip to Strasbourg was an ideal start to festive season, even if passing on the vin chaud was an incredibly tough sacrifice.

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Jumping on the bandwagon

Six weeks ago I left my beloved Newbury and have since been living and studying in Nancy, France as the first part of my Erasmus year abroad. Nancy is a beautiful and sophisticated town found in the Lorraine region (home to Quiche Lorraine, believe it or not). Everything about this cultural gem of a town is very “chic” – from the majestic Place Stanislas to the revolving dancefloor of  “Le Chat Noir” (very confusing when you are trying to get to your friends but they just keep moving further and further away, and you can’t fathom why….). Even the kebab shops have their own outdoor seating area and an air of sophistication that just seems to escape British kebab culture. You can imagine the disgust and confusion I face when asking for a French version of a “cheesy chip butty” –  “Je voudrais du pain, avec des frites et de fromage s’il vous plait???” It just doesn’t exist. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m quite “chic” enough to be living here, but I’m giving it my best shot.

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It may be a little late to start a blog, but everyone was doing it and I felt like jumping on the bandwagon, or rather I was suffering from “FOMO” (besides, I know all my Facebook friends love it when their newsfeeds are inundated with cultural blog posts). I won’t go into immense detail over what I have done over the last six weeks, as that could take six weeks to do so. However, I’ll give you a brief overview of the highlights of my time here so far:

Place Stanislas: as previously mentioned, this is the town’s main tourist point, and it has every reason to be. A UNESCO world heritage site with fountains, statues and golden intricacies, it is absolutely jaw-dropping – even in the torrential rain (which is never ending here in Nancy). The fact that I have to walk through the Place everyday on my route to uni makes going to lectures just slightly more appealing.Image

Parc Pépiniere: okay so I know we have parks in England, but this one has monkeys! The gardens and wildlife also make for pretty viewing. My favourite spot to go jogging in Nancy (even if I have only done so once during my time here, during which I spent the majority of the time desperately trying to keep up with my friend who is blessed with much longer legs than me…)

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The Love Boat For all you Fever enthusiasts who have been mourning its loss over the past six months, the Love Boat Bar is an equal match. Actually, Fever didn’t do karaoke nights; The Love Boat wins.

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Oktoberfest, Munich: so this was my first “voyage” with the Erasmus society as well as being my first trip to Germany, and it was fantastisch (fantastic in German for those of you wondering). After a painful 8 hour overnight coach journey, my cheerful self was soon to be restored by the incredible atmosphere, beer drunk by the litre and men in laderhosen. The experience was fully worth spending thirty euros on tacky tourist souvenirs.

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Fête de la soupe: I was very doubtful as to how a festival to celebrate soup could resemble anything less boring than a traffic jam, but I was pleasantly surprised; soup is fun! You had 2 hours to taste all the different soups cooked by locals in interesting costumes, then vote for your favorite. Inevitably I chose a cheese flavored soup. Didn’t buy any tacky tourist souvenirs here as they had run out of Fête de la Soupe tea towels.

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Day trip to Metz: Visited a modern art museum, spent most of the time standing behind signs that said “No Entry”, or on the other side of lines that said “Do not cross this line”, and demanding people to take photos of my hilarity.

Voyage dans Les Vosges: A little cultural excursion to the neighboring region of Alsace, close to the German border. This weekend was action packed, including a trip to a chateau (got to be done whilst in France), a visit to a monkey park (more monkeys!), Alsace wine tasting (all in the name of culture), a “grande soirée” and then a walk round the picturesque Lac Geradmer the next day to recover. Tourist souvenirs bought here include: lots of wine, tacky naked lady postcards.

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Laser Quest: Got fully into this and genuinely believed I had morphed into Lara Croft. Then looked at the scoreboard… I suck.

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So there you have in a nutshell my first six weeks in the land of baguettes, escargots and ladies who wear high heels at all times other than for a night out (wearing heels shopping/ to lectures… who does that??) “Is Nancy living up to the high life of fun and adventure that you are used to in Newbury?”, I hear you ask. Brace yourselves for my response, but yes, my time so far here has been incredible and I have most definitely come to understand the expression “home from home”. J’adore Nancy. Sorry for being soppy.

There are a lot more things I could say, but I’m not going to because I have a 9am lecture tomorrow. Until the next time I am bored of uni work and need some form of procrastination, I’ll wish you all a “bonne nuit“.

Bisous xxx

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