Sunday, 11 August 2013

Plus belle la vie en France!


My fortnight in France was based on a mix of two things: summertime in the south and catching up with old friends/family ...and you can't get much better than that! I started with a couple of days in Nice with uncle George and Ally, then went west to Avignon and caught up with my previous au pair host family the Martinez-plans before visiting my French exchange host family the Brions in Cazaux near Bordeaux, here's a run down of what happened :) 

I flew in to Nice early (a whole 2 hours from England - Europe is so small) and was walking along the Mediterranean coast, surrounded by the beautiful French language and creperies by noon = Encroyable!
Buuuuut... I soon realised that my French skills left much to be desired. Trying to block out French and learn Spanish for 5 months really makes it difficult to remember French again. I kept on getting muddled between the two! And having three possibilities for a word running around in my head (that's the best case scenario here) meant that I was slower responding with the French that I did know! Le sigh. Haha. It got better slowly. 
I think it took about a week to really get back into the swing of it. That's a long time! So anyway, to start with it was pretty shocking :(

Uncle George and Ally were incredibly generous and good fun to hang out with! I stayed with them for two days, crashing the last bit of their two week vacation ;) They had a great apartment in Cagnes sur Mer; the surrounding area wasn't too touristy but still had a tourist office and jet skis for hire etc. (this is the Côte d'Azur people), walking distance from a nice beach and cafe/bar strip, there was a small local market and to top it all off there was an amazing pool! Nice! (Excuse the pun). So the day I arrived we hung out in town and by the pool before cracking out the wine and nibbles on their balcony at dusk (which is around 9pm!! Awesome!!). 
Then the next day we got the train to Cannes, just over half an hour away, and spent the day there. It was amazing! It really fitted my imagined Côte d'Azur stereotypical town. You know, packed out beach, big fancy hotels, expensive restaurants, colourful umbrellas and deck chairs you have to pay for, wrinkly topless sunbathing grannies more tanned then you ever thought possible (as well as the young supermodel equivalents and the ones who aren't so young anymore with fake boobs), designer sunglasses and chihuahuas in handbags... Plus lots of tourists. You don't only hear French  here! Haha, in short it was perfect :) 
We came back after a good long sun bathe and some window shopping to get freshened up (and have a siesta in my case - making a bit of a habit of it now) before hitting the town for George and Ally's last night! We had a lovely meal and even a cheeky dance later on. great fun ;) Thank you so much guys!!  I had an incredible time with you! 
The next morning they were off nice and early, and I headed into Nice for the day on my way to Avignon armed with all the leftover food - didn't need to buy anything all day = score! I spent the day lying on the beach (galettes/pebbles here, not so nice, but at least you don't get sand everywhere!) and wandering the town. It is a gorgeous place! Really French ;)  ...So I saw three towns in three days! Going strong!

Avignon was a bit more chilled, and I slept in a bit more... but that was fine because the kids like to do that too in the summer :) I stayed five nights and it was really nice being able to catch up and spend some time with the whole family: Marie-luce and Joel (the parents) and Hugo and Laurianne (les enfants) ...who grew up a lot since I was there looking after them four years ago!!  In the afternoons we went to the beach or into Avignon town to see a show (since the Avignon festival was on for the whole of July), took the dogs to the lake and paddled in a little row boat and/or swam in the pool until 9pm... It was wonderful! and you could tell we were definitely in Provence. I walked past orchards of fruit trees packed full of ripe apples/pears/peaches/small plums (mirabelles) on my way to the local market... whilst being serenaded by cicadas. Wow. Love it. 
It was really strange to sleep in the same room and bed that I slept in four years ago! So much has happened since then.. Really fun too though, bit of a trip down memory lane. I got the bus into and out of town all by myself just like old times!! Haha and once again I was spoiled by my hosts... (!!) incredible food, people fussing over what we should do each day, big bed, my own shower. It was amazing. They were incredible and helped me to no end, especially when it came to me arriving and leaving, which I was very unclear about a lot of the time!! Whoops.. Sorry guys! Thankyou for being so patient and flexible!!

To get to Cazaux (near Arcachon) to see my exchange host family I tried a new thing I'd heard about - carpooling. There are a couple of websites that you can organise it through, and for the journey across the south of France you can save serious money and time! So I went with Camille from Avignon to Bordeaux and only caught the train for the last bit. It was awesome! More direct and more comfortable plus you meet cool local people. It's also better for the environment, saves you money and helps the driver with the cost of the trip. Everybody wins! I've done it again since and it's been really good. Definitely going to keep an eye out for more opportunities like this :) 

Then I was in Cazaux with the Brion family again! Yay! Four and a half years for this one, crazy. And they remembered that I LOVE the chèvre (goats cheese) they get, so they got me some especially! Nyawwww! Soo much good food again. Yum. We went around and re-visited familiar sights for me like the market, the beautiful houses and lookout tower in the ville d'hiver in Arcachon, St Elme (the school I went to for 3months) and the lake in Cazaux. It was very different from what I remembered because I stayed  in winter, and Arcachon is a beachside tourist town so it comes alive in summer! It was beautiful! I think i like summer better, not so cold. hahaha. I think the council had been busy too, there are a lot of very nice new buildings I hadn't seen before. We also stopped by to visit Nathalie's parents (they were my host grand parents I guess), who I saw a lot of when I was there.  It was lovely to see them again! They are such a sweet couple. They even asked about Anna and my family back home :) 
We also went to a few places that I never made it to last time - there's always more to do! :)  We went to the Cazaux zoo and some little towns on the other side of the bassin d'Arcachon. Then on Sunday night Nicolas, Nelly and I road tripped down to Bayonne near the Spanish border for the final night of the Fete de Bayonne. Ahhh-MAZING!! It is the towns' festival. Lots of (basque?) towns have a crazy folkloric festival each summer... they get pretty big. Bayonne is one of the biggest and goes for four or five days. They had bull shows instead of bull fighting where there are two teams of 'fighters' (one from Spain and one from France) who dodge and jump/flip over the bulls when they charge at them (!!). They are awarded points for each round, and there were 10 rounds (ie. 10 different bulls) then the winning team was announced at the end. And in the opening and closing ceremonies they have heaps of extra flourishes such as singers, dancers, smoke machines, a brass band, those insane riders who do handstands and stuff while their horses gallop around the ring and make get their horses to rear up and dance around with their heads bent right down... It was incredible!! ..not too sure if I agree with the crazy over-trained horsemanship, but it was VERY impressive all the same! 
Besides the show, which was in an arena a kilometre out of the old town, they have a fair ground and different stages around town for popular bands as well as traditional basque music, and they had fireworks, and a parade...!!! 
But my favourite part was the fact that the cobblestone and windy little streets of the old town were teaming with thousands of people all dressed in white with red bandanas, berets, scarfs and sangria stains ;) and everyone was there to have a good time! The festive atmosphere was contagious! We did the trip as an all-nighter pretty much, driving down and back with just a couple of hours sleep in the car. Poor Nelly had to go to work that afternoon! But it was worth it - what a night! :D Thankyou so much to Nicolas and Nelly for driving and making it possible!
After that I took a day to recover before I said my goodbyes and was carpooling off to Salamanca in Spain!! Back into youth hostels now! 

It was so nice to be able to see my incredible host families again and spend time witth George and Ally. All of you were so generous... Putting me up and entertaining me, and still picking me up and dropping me off places even though I could barley tell you all where or when more than 24 hours before...! It is such a different experience travelling around and seeing people like this, you get a completely different perspective compared to staying in hostels, not to mention saving a lot of money... Thankyou guys I can travel at least a week longer now!! Please come and stay with me one day in future so I can return the favour!

So... what a cool fortnight in France! My French did get a lot better by the end too, phew! It's not all gone. Hahaa 
Now to see if my little bit of Spanish is still there...