Tag Archives: Caen

Why hello there!

So, I just dropped my parents off on their train. They will take it to the airport and leave tomorrow, homeward bound. It was a really good visit, no major incidents and only a few items on mom’s list that she didn’t get to do. But there were things not on the list that we did do, so overall I’d call it a success. It has been really nice being back in Caen, I now consider myself Normand so it feels like a second home. Plus Caen just brought out ALL of the sunshine for us, it was happy to have me back.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Caen lately. When I first arrived I was not sure what to think about it at all and that kind of continued all the way through the year, just unsure. But now that I’m so much older and wiser, since September, let me lay it out for y’all:

Caen was virtually destroyed in the war, unfortunately destroyed while trying to be liberated. Since then it has been rebuilding, re-growing, and redefining itself. It shied away from rebuilding exactly as it was and that has led to bits of growth spurts, in my opinion. If one were to visit Caen and visit say, Rouen, Rennes, or Nantes, they would think that Caen was much more open in a way that most other French cities aren’t. Some may argue that it makes it feel less “French” as it were but to me it just makes it feel more comfortable and able to breath.

It hasn’t been easy for Caen to grow during the decades in a consistent manner. Styles changes, leadership changes, and so it has some odd buildings that stick out or a few areas that were designed in a less than aesthetically pleasing period (sorry Herouville and a few other spots). Also, from my experience, it is really trying right now. It is the Basse-Normandie capital and as such it needs a bit more, its hard being outshined tourism and attraction wise when you are the capital and yet because of the history (WWII) the coast and other areas draw the crowds. So Caen is adding, it’s building, first Zenith and Les Rive D’Orne, and now the newer, not yet finished, Parc Expo. Luckily it has lots of room to grow and expand.

Caen is also playing host to a lot of things this summer, starting small with the channel race, then going big with the 70th DDay anniversary (mostly held outside of town, but still a major part of it all), followed by the World Equestrian games, and finally the smaller but still awesome world championship of Kayak Polo.

So what does all of this, in my small, humble opinion mean? Caen is ready to be taken seriously as a major city. It is proving that it can host major events, it can continue to grow and expand, and that it is finally finding its voice in an area that smaller cities usually shine and where the capitals on each side of it tend to out shadow it as well. Really, Caen is ready and moving into the future and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Plymouth Part 2: Tantrums and Teachers

Well! The house is too small. The beds are impossible. There are too many of us. It’s too small. Two people have to eat in the kitchen!! There isn’t enough room in the rooms. It’s too small. The coordination is horrible. We have to take two cars to get there. It’s just too small. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable.

MERDE! Pardon my French, my actual French. The professors were the biggest whiners I had ever met and I was super embarrassed to be “one of the group” at that point. Sure, our host family couldn’t understand them but still. It was terrible. To try and feel like I was being polite I ended up talking with the two, generous people taking us into their house and cooking for us, for about an hour. I was still just mortified. I felt, and continued to feel for most of the trip, that I was jumping in front of bullets just because I would be the one not killed by them.

The next morning didn’t help anything. Note to well-meaning British folk, if French people ask if you have coffee, don’t give them hot water and Maxwell House instant mix. Let’s just say, they won’t be impressed.

Then of course the actual bus pick up spots with the kids was a nightmare too. Two buses, different locations, no list of which students would arrive where, all of the teachers at one stop, the coordinator nowhere to be found, and then to top it all off one taxi takes the students directly to the school without telling anyone.

Can we focus on the taxi part for one second? Perhaps it was just my K-8 school at home (Go Maplewood!) but parents would not stand and teachers would probably be on probation or something, if it was known that students were put into taxis with no supervision to get from one place to another. I thought they were joking at first. No, they were not.

Anyway, EVENTUALLY, with all students accounted for the next morning we got them settled into the school in Plymouth, kind of a technical college, for their morning classes and then us teachers got to sit and wait for 3 hours.

Oh, you think the hissy fit about the house was bad just wait until lunch. I thought the teachers were about to mutiny. Was it a great lunch? No. Was it edible food? Yes. Was it edible food to this group of French teachers? Hell No. I just sat there, eating my little lunch and not saying a word, while once again the world was coming to an end all around me. White Bread!!?!?!? Are you kidding me! This juice box? Is this a joke? A bag of chips? Impossible! C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable.

For the afternoon we went to the Eden Project. It has two biomes, one with a rainforest atmosphere, one with the Mediterranean. It was a cool place, the kids had fun and the weather held out nicely. On the way back do you think that the bus driver took the same, wide road, way that he came? No, no he did not. Going a good 30 minutes out of the way on tiny, one lane roads with hedges half-way up the bus he wandered around until getting onto the road that we came on. Only then to take another wrong turn and driving on the wrong side of the road while we all yelled “LEFT” (in French) for about another 45 minutes. So yes, we were late again to meet all of the families and this is when the yelling and screaming between the head teacher and the coordinator commenced. It was quite a site.

“You’re unprofessional!”

“I’m unprofessional? This is terrible planning and ridiculous communication. The worst ever.”

“You’re making a real site, you know.”

Friday and Saturday

So, as I mentioned in the video, I finally got to have lunch with Jennifer from Chez LouLou “chezlouloufrance.blogspot.fr/” and it was fantastic. We met at a restaurant in Caen called Dolly’s which is a British run traditional British lunch and tea room type restaurant. It was good food and we both liked what we got. The conversation though was by far the best part. She is hilarious and we connected on tons of subjects and really just had a blast. Originally she is from Spokane, Washington (pronounced Spo-can for those of us in the know) and has lived in multiple places, including Seattle itself. So it was fun to both chat a bit about shared places and life and also all of the differences and her and mine adventures.

I am really hoping that she and I can get together again before I am finished here, not a lot of time to make it happen but always possible. Next time I think we’ll get together in Bayeux since she lives out that way. Check out her blog for all things French food, living, and more!

So, as I mentioned, I had to cut our lunch short. We were having such a fun time that I barely glanced at my phone to realize that I had a train to catch at 13h05 (1:05pm) and it was already 12h46 (12:46pm). We quickly said goodbye and I ran, yes ran across the city, having just missed a tram. Boy were those the wrong shoes to run in. But I made it. I was panting, but safely on the train for Paris to meet my friend Ronnie.

Ronnie is a flight attendant and had a day layover in Paris and suggested that I come down, so of course, I did! Got to his hotel room and woke him up from his nap, he said he’d be ready to go but that didn’t happen. Anyway, we set out to see some of Paris. He’s been here before but only seen a few sights and the inside of a few bars. I got to play tour guide and if you know me you probably know that I LOVE to play tour guide. I was pointing out monuments and buildings, telling anecdotes, it was a hoot.

After walking more than halfway across the city (the best way to see everything) we decided on dinner and ate at a fine little roadside café with a great people watching location. Next we went around a bit, bar to bar to just have a beer or two, enjoy the Paris night life a bit, and called it an early night since he had to get up SUPER early for his next flight.

The next day after Ronnie left I was going to just hang around Paris, drink my café, people watch, read my book, as is my normal Paris past time, but then a thought occurred to me…I had the ability and the time to go to… DISNEYLAND J

Rouen!

Well, that was a quick, but good trip to Rouen, the other Normandie city. Actually, population wise I believe Rouen is bigger. It is laid out much differently than Caen, being cut down the middle by a large river. On one side of the river, as well as surrounding most of the city is all industrial land. The city is also ringed by a few hills to one side, a much different landscape than Caen..

The city center itself is much more dense than it is here, which lends itself very well to a day tour. Having survived the war much better than Caen there are lots of older buildings and architecture. Big fan of elaborate, elegant churches? Boy are you in luck! Not only is there the giant and skyline stealing Cathedral there are multiple other large scale churches to be found throughout the city as well. Highly recommended is the church right behind the massive cathedral and the church attached to the Hotel de Ville, make sure to stroll through the grounds around there as well.

I’m a big fan of the impressionist painters so it was no surprise that the Musee des Beaux-Arts was a big hit with me. They play host to my all time favorite Monet and many other works of art by great painters. And compared with the Caen museum this one will take you forever to get through, the second floor seems massive! Free for those under 26 (SCORE!).

But of course the clock, probably the first thing that would come up on a google image search. This massive clock (horlage) is beautiful, golden color, and ornate. I dare you to go to Rouen and NOT see the clock, go ahead, try it. It’s awesome to gaze at, go under the arch, and then gaze at it again from the other side. Of course you can also pay a small fee, 6 euro, for the audio guide tour that takes you up into the bell tower and to the very spot that my video is from. That is a must! Either go at the very beginning of your stay in order to get the lay of the land, or at the end to reflect on your day there. Clear skies preferred, naturally.

There are tons of the traditional timber lined houses lining every street but they are cute every time you see them. Even houses and areas destroyed in the war have been mostly rebuilt in the same style so that you don’t lose the traditional illusion. So take lots of time to just wander, see the shops, the markets, grab a coffee, and just take a sit.

The two major Normandie cities really couldn’t feel more different. Caen feels more “artificial” but I say that more in a newly fabricated way. It has wider streets, newer looking but not modern buildings, and a more open air feel. Rouen feels taller, more squeezed in, but historic and true to its past. OH! Make sure to see the Palais de Justice, the court house. It’s a historic building and no, the workers didn’t do a bad job, those are shell holes left from WWII.

Anyway, if you’re in Normandie and have time to see the two cities it is worth a compare and contrast.

Much love,

Surprise!

So this month has really been good so far, yay February. I finally feel like I know people here, not just other assistants. Today was another great example of a surprise encounter that can be really great. The substitute teacher that I had worked with in the middle school called me up and asked me to lunch with her friend and her son. It was a lot of fun.

She served an amazing little lunch and there was just lots of conversation, much of which I understood! Bonus!! It was just such an unexpected treat. Her friend lives in the same town as I do so she gave me a ride and she said that next time we should all get together at her house for an evening. What lovely people.

More, this next week I will be having lunch with the lady I mentioned who runs the big blog Chez Loulou. We’re having lunch on Friday with the American teacher at the high school. We’re going to be eating at Dolly’s a little English restaurant in Caen that I’ve been meaning to get to. Excited for that!

All of this comes at a kind of funny time in my stay. I’ve been here for four and a half months with just about 3 months left (including travel). As I’m looking forward to May I am not sure that I will be ready to go home. Don’t get me wrong, I love home, I love Seattle, and all, but I’m just not sure if I’ll be ready for it. I don’t feel like I’m done here but staying would prove perhaps difficult.

But I am looking at options, yes mom like applying to Microsoft or other jobs. It would still be a long, long shot even if I ever heard back from a company. What with the whole interview (realizing my French isn’t perfect) and knowing all of the paper work that would follow. However, I might as well look. I sent in a resume (CV) to a local hotel that is looking for a bilingual receptionist. And the timing is kind of perfect with the 70th anniversary of D Day landings because the region will play an even larger role in American, English and Canadian tourism this summer (even the Queen and the President will be here). So, worth a shot.

Anyway, the fact that I finally feel like I’m apart of this place is making the unease about going home more difficult and that’s why it’s interesting. Who knows, come May, I might be itching to get home.

Speaking of my way home, most likely it will be through Boston. I can’t wait to visit my best friend and spend time with him in Boston.

Well, this is quite long and if anyone made it through all of this CONGRATS! I doubt I would have read it all.

With love,
Tim