If I had a dollar for every time I have heard ‘bonne année’ so far this year I would have an impressive coin collection. Unlike ‘happy new year’ which I feel is wished really only in the spirit of midnight, and at a stretch on the first of January in NZ, EVERYONE here says bonne année to each other every time they see someone they haven’t seen ‘all year’…factor that in to this spot-on video doing the rounds at the moment and the snail’s pace of getting anything done in France is not exactly a surprise (language warning for the faint of heart):

Now to recap what I’ve been up to since I last wrote…

Christmas

I spent Christmas with my friend Claire and her family who I had stayed with when I first arrived, a decision I was very happy with as it turned out my flatmates were having 15 guests over in our apartment – non merci. It was a much more intimate affair with the Tindons and they really made me feel like part of the family! I got to meet her siblings Yves and Cécile who were back in town from Montpellier and Strasbourg respectively. I didn’t want to whip my phone out taking photos of everything but we had most of the traditional French Christmas fare including oysters (I politely abstained – though I did have to try scallops the night before), smoked salmon, a ‘poularde’ which is basically a giant chicken – not quite turkey size, and my second pavlova of the week which went down well despite being a little undercooked.

As it was a very mild 16 degrees we headed to the local park along with the rest of the neighbourhood for a spot of pétanque, which I just found too funny – a French family actually going to play pétanque together. It was really fun! We then had a second round of dessert with the more traditional Bûche de Noël, and finished off the day going to see Star Wars. Not your typical Christmas Day activity, but a popular one with about 40-50 people in the screening?  Yves went to the effort of explaining the entire backstory to me in English so I could hardly say no! To be honest the day and the whole period leading up to it didn’t really feel like ‘Christmas’ to me as it was just such a different vibe to at home, but  I nonetheless had a wonderful time with my adoptive family. Merci!

Paris

In the second week of my holidays I went to Paris for five days around NYE, because pourquoi pas. We all know conciseness is not my forte but as A LOT happened in these five days I have done my best to whittle it down!

Day One I was flying solo before Sophie arrived from NZ. I spent the afternoon catching up with Sarah and Fred of NZ French Film Festival fame, and in the evening took myself up the Arc de Triomphe for my first nighttime vista of Paris. Worth the waiting in the cold!

Day two Sophie arrived bright and early and we spent the entire day walking; from Montmartre through the Grands Boulevards and covered passageways down to the Ile de la Cité and Saint-Michel to the Jardin des Plantes and back via Bastille and le Marais to where we were staying near République – baptism by fire for Sophie but at least it seemed to work out any jet lag!

Day three was not quite as intense but still involved a lot of walking – if only we had a pedometer! We meandered from the Eiffel Tower to the Louis Vuitton exhibition in the Grand Palais (très intéressant); through the golden mile from the Champs-Elysées Christmas market, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries,  Hôtel de Ville et encore République, where it was time for a solid nap in preparation for the night’s festivities.

The evening kicked off with a lovely dinner at a little bistro near where we were staying which vastly exceeded our expectations! It ended up being perfect timing as left there around 10 (having arrived at 7:30) and retraced our steps from the afternoon to arrive back at the Champs-Elysées around 11. A lot of people have been asking if we felt scared/safe in Paris and honestly this was the only time we really thought about it – obviously because it was a rather ‘conspicuous’ gathering of a lot of people, but also because of the heavy security presence. We had to go through two police checkpoints to advance up the Champs-Elysées, in which they checked under our coats and in our bags. This was a little disconcerting at first, as a reminder that there was a risk, but ultimately reassuring that everyone was being screened like this. We ended up getting pretty close to the Arc de Triomphe with perfect timing to see projections that started at 11:55pm – scaled down from what had initially been planned. At midnight it was of course bonne années all round and everyone was in a rather jovial mood. We retraced our steps yet again to walk home but it was a lovely evening to be out and about, even if the previous days’ walking finally chose that moment to catch up with us!

 

Day four you guessed it, more meandering from our apartment to the Latin Quarter and Saint Germain, our only major queuing time for the Musée d’Orsay unfortunately coinciding with the most freezing weather we had. Worth it though! I tried to remember some 19th Century art 101 for Sophie and she seemed satisfied, though I could only think of how much I’d forgotten since I last had an art history class two years ago! Whoops. We headed home after that as it was cold and we needed to recuperate.

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Day five, our last day, saw me finally getting to Sainte Chapelle after it didn’t quite make the cut on every previous trip. Worth the wait and the early start to avoid the queues! Afterwards we walked yet again across town to check out the fancy Bon Marché department store, having lunch near Bastille and checking out the Coulée Verte – Paris’ answer to New York’s Highline. After that it was back for our bags and on the train to Lyon just as the rain started.

Lyon

The following week in Lyon was quite a different pace to Paris as I was back at work and Sophie had a lot of time to take in the sights (and the shops). An unexpected highlight was our obligatory dinner at a local bouchon; finally hitting up Le Café des Fédérations which my flatmate had recommended. It’s very common in France to have set lunch or dinner menus, however, we didn’t quite pick up on the fact that this one was SIX COURSES, all for €28! Incroyable. We were full after the entrées, but soldiered on valiantly.

Needless to say our galette des rois for the 6th of January had to be postponed till the following evening. Long time fans of the blog may remember me participating in this tradition in 2013 – also celebrated as Three Kings’ Day in Latin America especially, it’s a Christian holiday which involves some kind of cake with a hidden trinket in it. In France this is a galette, pastry with most commonly a frangipane filling. The tradition here is that the youngest person hides under the table, and dictates who receives each slice of the galette. Whoever has the trinket in their slice becomes the king/queen for the day – unfortunately for me it was about 10pm by the time we did this so my regal powers were rather limited.

 

School

I have now been back at school for a week and a half and things are just ticking on as per. Next week though I will be starting my new timetable, working with some different teachers and finally getting stuck into things properly at the collège which I’m excited about. Most importantly it means I have no more horrible Mondays where I’m at school from 11-6, spending half of that time sitting around waiting. I do lose my free Fridays but the tradeoff is worth it!

At the end of my last blog I mentioned the promise of getting some more money from the government and they well and truly delivered! I was honestly gobsmacked – just casually checking my bank account to find a rather large, and evidently recurring, deposit in there. No form of explanation whatsoever but I’ll take it! It’s basically a housing subsidy that all assistants were encouraged to apply for as we only work part time so don’t earn a whole lot of money. It’s notoriously an uphill battle through all the paperwork (without even knowing if you’ll receive anything, let alone how much), and the money typically doesn’t trickle through till basically when you leave, which just makes this whole thing so unbelievable. The shine has somewhat worn off since my brother kindly pointed out that I am on the dole (thanks James) – I like to think of it as a continuation of my salary since I am in fact a public servant. Regardless, a monthly bonus is a monthly bonus which I am quite happy to take advantage of!

That’s about everything caught up now. I have absolutely nothing on the agenda for the foreseeable future yet – the next round of school holidays is in February so I need to think about what I want to do then. As per, the next blog entry will come when I have enough interesting things to write about!

A la prochaine fois alors,

Catherine

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