Tag Archives: Europe

Marseilles

Well, my Seattle upbringing and German/Norwegain heritage were obviously no match for the Marseilles sun… ouch! It was only the spots that I missed with sunscreen but still.

 

Anyway, Marseilles is beautifully located on the Mediterranean Sea, the bluest blue waters I’ve ever seen for sure. While the Old Port and other heavily trafficed areas are rather nice the rest of the city is well…. icky. Now this is just my opinion but I will say that I love the weather, the old port, and the sea side of Marseilles but that’s about it for my high lights list. Luckily that was what I came down here for.

Problems with the city? Let’s start with the smell, a lovely aroma that keeps you guessing whether each turn of the corner will yield garbage, urine, or excrement smells. Kind of like Russian roulette for your nose, only they are all bullets and sometimes you get a Nirvana of an empty chamber. Sorry, I’m sure that reads a lot harsher than it should.

Now I thought Caen had a graffiti problem but in hindsight Paris was worse. If the level of Paris graffiti is, let’s say, a 6 or 7 out of ten (really not too terrible) then Marseilles is probably a 12. I honestly don’t know how they find new places to do it, they have skill for sure.

Finally of all of the French cities I’ve visited I unfortunately have to say that I feel the least safe here. In Caen I walk around no problem, in Paris I’m pretty comfortable being anywhere, but here, I’m constantly thinking about it. Maybe it’s just me.

 

Now, before I wrap this up on a downer note let me change the tone. I have still enjoyed my time here a lot. It was a good vacation spot and I think my time here was well spent. I relaxed, I read, I reddened a bit. There are other parts of the city that are GORGEOUS, like the church on the hill, the old port walks and some others. So, yes, there are some parts of the city that need to be improved but still a good spot.

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.”

Plymouth School Trip part 1

So, last week, starting at 5:15am on Sunday I was on an adventure with 90+ middle school students and seven other teachers to the United Kingdom. Our destination was Plymouth out on the far south west corner of Britain. After orientation onto busses (with what I would come to appreciate later as the worst bus driver ever!) we were off to the ferry. The ferry from Ouisterham to Portsmouth is about 6 hours but it passed relatively quickly. And we were soon clearing customers, where I got to finally speak with some more native English speakers (you miss it, a lot).

Next we had a long and I mean long drive out to Plymouth. The plan was to drive to Exeter, give the kids and drivers about an hour break, see a bit of the city, and then finish the trip out. However, I quickly realized that A) I was the only teacher in the lead bus still awake and B) our driver had turned onto small town roads where the bus barely fit and he had clearly no idea where he was. Imagine a bus driver (French) driving a gigantic bus through small British streets, with his archaic map ON the wheel, looking up, looking down, and clearly lost.

Finally some other teachers wake up, question the time, and help navigate. We are forced to stop 15 minutes outside of Exeter at a tiny rest stop for 45 minutes and almost an hour behind schedule. We bypass Exeter, having no time to spare, arrive in Plymouth 45 minutes late and this is where the fun starts. Yeah, the fun starts…

It’s pouring down rain and we finally find the parking lot to meet all of the host families. The coordinator never received our text or calls so all the families and taxis, yes taxis, have been waiting in the miserable rain for 45 minutes. Caroline is a rough woman with little patience and is unimpressed at our arrival. She tries to coordinate all of the kids with their families and taxis but I’ll be completely honest, if I didn’t take the reins to get everyone to their right places, we’d still be there.

So, with a supposed arrival time at 7:00pm, we, the professors finally get to our host house a little after 10:30pm that night. And it is here that my lovely colleagues, many of my actual favorite co-workers, confirm every French stereotype in the book. Stay tuned.

BERLIN

Well, it is sadly almost time for me to leave Berlin L However, I am glad to say that in my short week here I have loved it! Berlin has now become one of my top places. I put it as, I am indescribably comfortable here. Yesterday I spent most of the day just sitting in different areas of the city, soaking up the sun, and people watching and it was great. I always try and have one day wherever I am to just sit, have some coffee, people watch, and observe the city.

After my slightly rocky arrival the next day couldn’t have gone better. I walked back to Alexanderplatz, which is not super close to my hostel but still walkable. This is where the large TV Tower is, the symbolic tower of old East Berlin. Around the platz there are lots of shops, eateries, and commercial stuff. From there I took one of the hop on – hop off tours. Again, these are cheesy and touristy, but they give you a great sense of direction around the city, fun facts, and history too. Always, always, always get on a bus with a live tour guide, I am personally never a fan of audio guides.

The bus tour takes around two hours, but really, take advantage of hoping off, so few people do and it really is great because it works as your personal, already paid for taxi service. On the tour I got to see the main street (under heavy construction) Brandenburg gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the main German government buildings, the bell tower, the Victory tower, old west Berlin commercial center, LOTS of embassies, the Tiergarten (best place ever), Potsdamer Platz, Check Point Charlie, the Fascist Wall Museum, and yes, more! Goodness. Now, I did not hop off everywhere because I knew how to easily walk back but I did get off every so often.

The rest of the day was spent walking back to some of the places that I did not hop off at and seeing them up close and personal. I had the traditional Berliner CurryWurst for dinner and went back to my hostel for a little rest. Now as mentioned, the hostel can be quite the party, but it has a cool rooftop lounge area where you can chill with a beer (SOLD!).

That evening I took a stroll around, ended up just sitting at an outdoor bar with a good German beer.

The next day was the main Government building and the east side. Now, you can register in advance for your time to go into the dome of the parliament but I had tons of time so I went to get in line early in the morning. As luck would have it they had openings for immediate entry! This was perfect.

Now, if I haven’t mentioned, Berlin has been turning up the heat and I am LIVING for the sun right now. I’ve been wearing a light jacket the entire time here, no heavy coat. So it was BEAUTIFUL in the top of the dome, overlooking all of the city.

After that I took the second tour of the Hop On – Hop Off bus that went around the old eastern section. This mostly includes neighborhood, some up and coming and trendy, some a little worn, and so on. It was great to see other areas and hear more in depth about the separation of the city.

That night… Karakoe Bar. I normally don’t care for karaoke bars, but this one was fun. With tons of raucous Germans all belting out American classics (they love the rat pack) it was a hoot. I met a group of people at the bar and we just chatted the night away. I may have even dusted off my karaoke classic of Devil Went Down to Georgia, to heck with ballads! 

Well the next day was more walking, I really should have had a step counter. I popped into a museum or two, history and art. Truth be told I am a little museumed out at this point.

The next day was all walking and sitting and coffee. I love this day of travel. I might even have gotten a bit sun burnt yesterday. It was so perfect.

So I now love Berlin. It’s such a great, friendly, wonderful city. OH!!! And I got to see Saving Mr. Banks! I have been waiting for this movie for MONTHS. It was great.

I’m off to the plane back to France soon, it’ll be good to get back into the routine for a bit longer.