Luke Bagnall writing on me and my girlfriend Tilly’s snowboarding trip to the French Alps during Reading Week.
More bludgey degrees the world over appear to have at least one thing in common – a week off from classes in the middle of semester for no determinable reason, usually called something vaguely suggesting productivity (‘Reading Week’, ‘Study Week’, ‘Postgraduate Week’) but never actually living up to that suggestion. Kind of like the Patriot Act. Anyway, in the UK, this week is especially superfluous due to the miniscule amount of contact hours we have, so Til and I decided to put our Reading Week to good use by spending it snowboarding in France.
We had a massive journey through London to ski shops and such before we left, and I found the train advertisement below pretty amusing:
I like how the Australian expression is the big one in the centre.
Les Deux Alpes featured on the board in the English snow shop.
From Grenoble airport we had a massive trip in a pre-booked taxi which for some reason left its meter on the whole time, causing us occasionally to pass nervous glances at each other as it crept towards 280 euro, hoping the driver wasn’t going to try and make us pay when we arrived.
That first afternoon we met our roommate Jean-Paul, another Aussie, then went for a ‘splore.
Surrounded by les boulangeries!
Cool roof snow
Random fox! Babelfish says: Hey!!! Made as me … Smile!!! But our French-speaking friend Caroline says: Hey!!! Do what I do … Smile!!!
We were feeling pretty French by this point. Every time I heard someone speaking it I’d get one of the four to five French songs I know (‘Champs-Elysees’, ‘Ta Douleur’, ‘Radio Song’, etc.) stuck in my head. Like how I almost racistly think of that Just Car Insurance ad voiceover that goes ‘Jhia, ru’ or something when I hear Asian languages. Also at this stage we were hungry, so we decided to have a French feast. It was amazing! The bread! The cheese! The BUTTER!
That night we were s’posed to meet the rest of the people doing the package and our guide person thingy in the bar. We headed down to the hotel bar looking for a rowdy pack of Australians, but they were nowhere to be seen. Then this Canadian girl said hi unexpectedly, and I confusedly said it back, to which she replied ‘I don’t know you but I can see you’re from Australia from your jumper (I was wearing my uni hoodie). Are you on the Topdeck tour?’ Ten seconds later I caught up:
Turns out she was the guide person thing, Chrissy. For some reason this awkward exchange repeated itself like, four times over the week, each time for different reasons. She spotted us from a chairlift and waved one day, but was all geared up and far away, so that took a good thirty seconds (who else could it possibly have been, Luke? You’re in the middle of the French Alps, for Christ’s sake), and then we ran into her in the bar and she had her hair down for the first time, so I didn’t recognise her again!
Chrissy was sitting with Jean-Paul, and informed us that we three comprised the entirety of the tour group. Three people! Apparently she often gets numbers as big as forty, but we had three! We were a bit surprised, but it turned out to be good ’cause we could go places we couldn’t have if there were more of us, and Chrissy and Jean-Paul were really cool.
We made plans to meet up again later for some guided exploration and went upstairs to have dinner. All our meals were included in the package, which could’ve sucked, but thankfully the foooood wassss incredibllllle. Different stuff every day, but always delicious, always baguettes and icecream. I cannot communicate in words the awesomeness of three French-cooked buffet meals a day. I ate so much that despite all the snowboarding and the cold weather and such, I stayed the exact same weight. The food in general in Les Deux Alpes was really good. There was the incredible lolly shop where we accidentally spent 15 euro, and Crepes a Go Go, where Tilly and I devoured caramel- and cheese-drizzled crepes respectively.
Also, they drink cider from bowls!
Til and Jean-Paul being led by Chrissy
The Polar Bear – an English pub.
Then there was the actual snowboarding. So good. It’s going to be pretty crap going back to Perisher after that. I improved substantially while I was there. Finally got the proper motion down, under the keen tutelage of our instructor Nancy, who had to keep translating her instructions solely for our benefit, and who could never remember the word ‘above’. But even Tilly learned some stuff from her (Til’s gone to the snow every year since high school started).
We were a bit worried at one point that Nancy was spending so long explaining things to the French people in our group, and then kind of just talking for thirty seconds to us, but Chrissy explained that it just takes longer to say things in French, as evidenced by these signs:
And while we’re on the subject, we found this display pretty funny:
On the Tuesday night, Til, Jean-Paul, Chrissy, her friend Owen and I all went out for a big one. Got a bit messy, learned some good drinking games, danced, and played with the camera:
‘Fingers in the middle!’
Til and I with Jean-Paul and Owen.
At one point some green face paint emerged from somewhere, and I narrowly averted having it forced upon me. For some reason I’ve always had some irrational aversion to face paint, even when I had my Lion King fifth birthday party and Mum made me an awesome Simba costume – she convinced me to let her paint my face like a lion and I could wash it off if I wanted afterwards (thinking I’d be convinced by how awesome it was) but I insisted I wash it off. Tilly wasn’t so prudish, but she paid for it the next day when she couldn’t get it out of her eyebrows and she was wearing orange so she looked like an Oompa Loompa, moreso than this picture reveals:
‘What do you get when you guzzle down sweets? Eating as much as an elephant eats …’
That’s okay though, ’cause judging from the picture further above I looked like a giant smurf in camo on the slopes.
While we were out I kept noticing things different about the drinking culture in France. All the bar people drink while working, but they’re all just generally more … responsible? Maybe that’s why we have such strict laws in Oz. At one point I saw the bar girl filling up this keg with beer – it was kind of like a gigantic transparent tube with a tap, and I thought ‘here we go’. But no, the gentlemen who bought it simply kept it next to them, refilling their glasses politely and drinking it in a responsible amount of time. I was floored. In Australia, the sole purpose of such a contraption would be to pass it around drinking it as fast as possible and sculling it beer-bong style. Later that night I saw some guy buying a massive bottle of Champagne at the bar, which wasn’t weird until I saw him taking it back to his table. It was four young guys with Champagne glasses, taking photos of themselves. Not allowed in an Australian bar, haha. The men also all kiss each other hello. Often on the lips. So different!
On the subject of diverging cultural conceptions of acceptable masculine behaviour (haha): they’re really into their foosball over here, apparently instead of pool? Can you imagine four beer-bellied, tattooed, shearing singlet-sporting Aussie blokes crowded around a foosball table in a pub? VBs in one hand, handles in the other? We were just sitting next to a foosball table and these three French guys asked us if we wanted to play. Jean-Paul, being a more experienced European traveller than I, immediately declined. I was on the verge of accepting when another one turned up, making their number an even four – and lucky for me ‘cause they have CRAZY skillz. It would’ve been pretty embarrassing.
I think it has something to do with passion – that’s why the Europeans love soccer so much. We’re too cool; laconic. Emotive displays make us cringe. We’re embarrassed by the idea of a sport where scoring is so rare that it necessitates explosive outbursts of joy, a sport that encourages you play-up your injuries – it’s just not cricket (hardee har har). Aussie men need a pub game where they can stoically stand back, an approproate distance from one another, drinking their beers, taking stock, and casually sauntering up and knocking a ball into a hole with a big stick, not the intensity of foosball, squeezed in around a table yelling. Maybe it’s all the pulling and spinning and gyrating of those little knobs that doesn’t appeal to us, I don’t know.
Their clubs reflect this kind of thing as well. Obviously there’s all the Dance RNB Hip-Hop Pop stuff we get in Western clubs, but there’s also this weird kind of ballady folkie empowering anthem type-stuff that’s sung in some European language which gets a reaction out of them that the other stuff doesn’t. They all stand around in a circle swaying and singing along and waving a pointed finger around in the air for emphasis. It’s kind of cool and kind of cringey, I think because it’s related to something that was in fashion for the rest of the world in the nineties, which originated in Europe but never died out there. I got some footage of this on my iPod, but once again this site doesn’t allow mp4 uploads.
I think the clubs we went to were more fun/nostalgia-oriented and less cool-oriented. Let’s just say I thought I’d danced my last Macarena when I stopped going to school discos, and I had no idea I remembered all the words to ‘Mambo No. 5’.
The morning after our big night, I slept in, but Til’s been too ingrained with the Australian Snowtrip mantra of ‘Must … make the most … of this ridiculously priced venture. Must … get up at six … and come home at six.’ I decided to take it a bit easier, ’cause the only two times I’d been to the snow before, I’d had trouble with my knee and leg cramps, and the longest of those was three days. I lasted fine, but Til burned herself out a bit and had to ease off towards the end. Anyway, that morning while we were all floating around in the half-consciousness of hangovers, still in bed, a girl appeared at our window (two storeys up, but there’s a roof between it and the next building) and started talking in French. We were like, ‘Sorry … Anglais?’ and then she just jumped through our window and out our door. It was pretty surreal, but she did it again a few mornings later. We figured she was from next door and went out onto the roof to smoke and got locked out by her friends, but I guess we’ll never really know … *wist*
The window (doubling as a fridge).
At some point we went to a trivia night held in French, which was challenging, but we came in like third or fourth place with the help of Chrissy’s translations. Apparently the hotel decides based on the turnout at the trivia night whether or not all the ski and snowboard instructors put on a sketch show, and since it was so packed, they did. It was mostly really physical humour that we didn’t need to speak French to get, so it was great. There was one sketch, though, where a guy walked out onto the stage with a rope trailing behind him. He turned around and began talking offstage, as if he had an animal tied to it. The animal turned out to be a dead, skinned hare which he proceeded to swing around the stage by the rope, occasionally hurling it out towards the audience, chunks of gristle flying everywhere. French humour.
Awkward but entertaining audience participation.
Another night Chrissy arranged for us to get discounts going night time snowmobiling. I decided I wasn’t going to tell this story here … for the shame. But I guess I am, so oh well. We walked up to these skimobiles and this French friend of Chrissy’s, named some Gallicised version of David like Davide or something, who runs the skimobile thing told us how to make it go and how to make it stop and to lean when we’re turning and that was about it. He asked if any of us had any experience with quadbikes, which I had, and said that we should be the ones driving up the mountain ’cause it’s more difficult, and our partners should drive back down.
So off we went. About five minutes in, mine and Til’s skimobile went right off track. I couldn’t see a thing because I didn’t realise there were two layers of visor on the helmet and I had both down, one being a sun shade, and also we were at the back of the convoy getting everyone else’s dust. So the French dude came down and set us back on course.
The track wound up the mountain Mt Ousley-style, and we’d been driving for about twenty or thirty minutes and still hadn’t reached snow – there were sparks flying off the bottom of our skimobiles. At each of the bends in the run one of the leaders would stop and wave us past to make sure we didn’t go careering off the mountain. So when we came to yet another turn in the anfractuous track and the French dude had stopped, I just assumed that’s what he was doing. It then became apparent he was telling me to stop, which I did. He stormed over and told me off a bit for not listening and then started telling us about how dangerous the next part was. He made it sound so dangerous that we started to wonder whether we should be doing it at all. When I said I had quadbike experience I meant in a field or a bush track, five years ago, not a fricking mountain! A mountain with no snow on it, no less.
We did end up just going back down. Pretty embarrassing. Chrissy said she’d never had anyone not be able to do it before. I didn’t think I was that hopeless, so I wondered if it had something to do with driving a skimobile for the first time without any snow, and Chrissy confirmed that the snow had never been as dried up as it was at the moment and usually the whole track was covered in it, so that could’ve contributed. Anyway, I’d rather be embarrassed than dead so there you go, haha.
On our last day in Les Deux Alpes, we were going up for one last snowboard. We were waiting for the bus when I looked down and noticed a gaping hole in the snowpants I’d borrowed from Rob Perry, a friend from UEA. It was right in the crotch, and all the insulation was exposed. There was no way I could snowboard like that, so my last day was ruined by a wardrobe malfunction. I felt really bad ruining Rob’s pants, so I went around Les Deux Alpes asking various ski shop employees if they did repairs and if they could fix it. I kept having to ask sheepishly ‘… Pardon, Anglais?’ to which they would reluctantly reply ‘Oui’ or ‘A little’ before spreading their hands and shaking their heads in reply to my question. Finally I thought to ask if they had any idea where I could get it fixed and they said to ask at the tourist centre. By some amazing stroke of luck, the woman at the counter was a seamstress herself, and said she’d fix it for five euro and I could pick it up at four. So that was lucky, but it still meant I had to sit around waiting instead of snowboarding on my last day in the French Alps. But at least the bus back to the airport had a window ledge!
And so ended our very productive study week. I hope everyone else got as much reading done as we did!
Mine and Matilda’s trip to my Grandpa’s in Newcastle had somewhat of an inauspicious start in our conveyance from Edinburgh. We spent a little too long saying goodbye to everyone from the Hogmanay tour and ended up having to RUN through the city to the sprawling train station where we were supposed to print out our tickets. With three minutes till our train left, we still had no idea where the hell we could print them, and just had to board without them. We then began stressing about the laws regarding such things in the UK. Surely, we thought, they’re too polite here to fine you. Turns out we just had to buy more tickets from the inspector when he came around.
Our folly was punctuated by a sign we saw upon our arrival in Newcastle:
The answer? No. No we can’t.
We met Grandpa at the train station and he took us back to his house, which has a name instead of a number – an English custom I think is really cool! Besides that, it’s the most English-sounding address ever: Turnberry Fairway Rise, Hartford Hall Estate, Bedlington, Northumberland. It has just about every quaint English suffix you can think of.
A little while after we arrived, a whole clan of my extended family arrived to meet me. We were treated to a strange kind of hospitality, whereby the host expresses incredulity to the point of derision if you decline anything:
‘Do you want anything? Tea? Coffee?’
‘Are you sure? Water? I think we’ve got some juice in here somewhere …’
‘No, no, seriously, I’m good.’
‘You don’t want anything? Nothing!?’
In this fashion I was guilted into Budweiser after Budweiser. It’s like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t want to consume something. I think it has something to do with the British propensity to have tea every five seconds. At any change in circumstance or situation they must be comforted by the consumption of tea. Also possibly an Australian sense of ‘roughing it’ – we drink when we’re thirsty, not when we turn the TV on or arrive home or go out or get up or move rooms.
But the food and the party were great. Towards the end we began fascinating my family with Australian coins and notes and licenses and passports. They couldn’t quite get over the waterproof money, and had to run it under a tap to appreciate its awesome power. I told them it was so we can go surfing with just a note in the pocket of our boardshorts.
That night, a couple of hours after I went to bed, I had my third spew of the trip (the Budweisers mixed with a lunch/dinner of party food and the chips, chocolate and softdrink we’d had to have for breakfast on the train were probably not a good idea).
We spent the following days eating out for lunch and dinner and visiting various castles, although we had perpetual bad luck in this, with Alnwick and Tynemouth being closed.
“Let me innnn!”: Scaling the portcullis.
Luckily we managed to get into Warkworth.
We also visited the cute little village of Alnmouth.
Grandpa and Christine seemed to have a personal cab driver who they’d always call to convey them to dinner if they wanted to drink. His name was Hippie, and he was a proper rough-looking Northerner – a Jordy, I think they might be called? Anyway he had a really low voice and a bikie-style ponytail. So you can imagine our surprise when his phone started ringing and his ringtone was ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA. He didn’t even seem embarrassed. Good on him, haha.
Our time at Grandpa’s was spent in absolute luxury, especially compared with the hostel life we’d become accustomed to. The bed was so comfy I never wanted to get out of it:
We had bacon sandwiches cooked for us every morning, and had lunch and dinner shouted for us every day and night. We lazed and napped and watched bad British television. It was just what we needed to recover in time for our next hostel venture.
So my reading break begun with my friend and Jasper and i walking to the steet just of campus and sticking our thumbs up. Success only took 10 minutes when a lovely lady picked us up and took us to the highway. Then another 1o minutes an middleaged couple picked us up and took us to the ferry terminal! they had lived in Sidney their whole lives and told us more about the area. Unfortunately you can not hitch a ferry so we had to buy a ticket. We did try and get a ride for the other side but were told “No hitching on MY terminal!!!”
The ferry is massive! it has study area, kids room , massage room, arcade games room! wow. It took to more hitch’s to get us all the way to whistler but in the end it took about 9 hour which is the same as taking the 4 or 5 public transports. We couch surfed on Saturday night with a guy called Scott and his girlfriend Emily. They were great! she showed me beautiful pictures of all of the amazing hikes that you can do around whistler in the summer, and Jasper taught Scott about some computer programing thing i think…
In the morning we woke to “…i came home to strangers on the couch!!” then a slammed door. Scott had forgotten to tell his room mate about us surfing, so he was angry. I have never had this happen before, but Scott was really nice and apologised, but it did mean i was accomondation-less. I just crashed in my friends hotel room on Sunday night.
Oh well! we went snowboarding after that and Jasper taught me how to do it properly and i finally get it! i can turn and stop and all sorts of things!! i was so excited! but i now go faster and stack harder… so much fun. Whistler is a cute town with an awesome village walk.
I love the sign “fire lane” ??? there is snow everywhere. Also the lovely sun beds 🙂 they did have the lovely view of the half frozen river.
next is Banff!
So at 6am in the morning when I double checked my departure terminal I noticed something that didn’t seem right. Today was the 24th wasn’t it? So why did my phone say it was the 22nd? Sitting on the edge of the bed, brain still muddled with jetlag it takes me a while, but eventually I begin to realise that yes, I’ve made a pretty large mistake, and yes I am about to get the shuttle bus to Heathrow two days early. Shit.
“Ah, excuse me? I’m accidently here two days early, any chance I could fly to Madrid please?”
It’s amazing how far a smile can get you. The nice lady from British Airways and I have a bit of a laugh and what do you know, hello to the 8:15 flight to Madrid. What are the chances? I thought I’d got away with the blunder pretty well until I had to explain to the check in lady and baggage man my embarrassing predicament. Humiliation aside, I was on the way to Spain, with a window seat and whole row to myself.
It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I had any time to wonder how on earth I could have misread the ticket maybe 70 times? To be fair, the 22nd is the date I return home, so it is written just under the 24th – the day I was supposed to get to Spain. But to be honest, I’d been telling everyone that I’d be arriving in Spain on Saturday all along, I’d made an appointment to look at a flat on the Sunday, so really I have no excuse, it just happened to be one of those moments in my impeccably organised life where my brain suffers a small glitch and I make a mistake. Yes, as far as mistakes go, this was a pretty big one. But these things happen to all of us, well, okay maybe just a small minority.
Madrid Airport was an absolute joke! With old Barry Backpack weighing me down I asked about a million different people where to get my bag from – turns out you have to catch a train to the baggage carousels, of course, because that is so logical! Anyway the next hour and a half of my life was one I’d rather forget, but at 2:00pm I found myself on the high speed train to Valencia cruising at a casual 300km/h.
Turns out rocking up in a new city with a new language in the middle of siesta is kind of difficult. But the universe had been on my side all day, although about an hour later somewhere in the cobblestone alleyways of Valencia without a map, or anyone I to ask for directions it left me for dead. I eventually found a taxi and got to the hostel where I got chatting to the girls at reception, one of whom had a room for rent in her flat and just like that the universe was back on my side! Not only that, in my dorm I met a girl from the Czech Republic also about to study in Valencia on exchange. We were later joined by another Swiss girl who is studying in the same faculty as me in at the University of Valencia.
Anyway, there is much more to say, but I think that will do for now, I’ve just moved into my new flat, more on that story later… E x
Apologies for the lack of post. I have been in the US (specifically UMass Amherst) for about 2months now and I have noticed a lot about America, laughed a lot at American things and ranted A LOT over American short-comings. I do try to stop my self if I notice that I’ve been ranting/complaining for the last five minutes straight, I tend to do this to my American friends and I wonder if they even understand why I’m annoyed. I think, just for therapeutic reasons, I will list the irritating things that I so much love to rant about:
- Whenever an American finds out I’m Australian I get – American: “Put another shrimp on the barbie! *elbow jab*” me: “uhm you know we don’t call them shrimp in Australia, we call them prawns” OR American: “Oooh do you have a pet kangaroo!?!?” me: “No…do you have a pet squirrel?”
- Peanuts…specifically peanut butter is in everything. EVERYTHING!
- 4 out of 5 times I will get “Cool accent, I’ve always wanted to go to England” or something of that nature. I don’t know what that says about my accent but it’s making me paranoid, I always thought I my accent/speech was a tad on the bogan side but evidently not!
- The work here is different, vastly different then how it is structured back home and it took a while to get used to. Although I have noticed that the grading is on the easy side and I don’t really mind that at all!
- Bros/Barbies…oh lord they are annoying! but fun to bag out I suppose.
Okay I’m done. forgive. I’m sure there are a lot of things that my American friends would love to rant about me…I think number one on the list would be that every time I see a squirrel I can’t suppress the urge to yell SQUIRREL! and point. I think that probably stopped being cute about 20 squirrels ago. I think this is what is great about exchange, being immersed in a culture that sometimes irritates you so much you just wish so bad for someone to offer you a cheeseybite scroll instead of PB&J but loving it so much all the same…
Hat’s off you to American, damn do you make my eye twitch sometimes but I will concede you sure are good for a laugh.
I couldn’t help but add my photo of a squirrel that sat long enough for me 🙂 *points* SQUIRREL!
At Lancaster University there is a free bus throughout Wednesday taking students into and back from town. This is when all the international students with half a brain go shopping because we get free transport. Why? Because the buses are run by Sainsbury’s (a supermarket in Lancaster) in the bid to get us to shop there.
Anyway, so this Wednesday, my two American flat mates and I went into town on the free bus for a shop. We had planned to spend about an hour shopping and get back again. Instead we were in town for five hours. There were many reasons for this;
a) we got lost in the arcade trying to find the one pound store and refused to give up on the principle of being povo exchange students who couldn’t afford another store
b) in the centre of the arcade there was a patriotic lobbyist group set up. Photo below but not great because I was trying to look like I wasn’t taking a picture.
I can tell you there is nothing more awkward than having a bunch of people seemingly enveloped in British flags coming up to you demandingly and saying “Help our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan! THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR YOU AND YOUR COUNTRY! SUPPORT THEM TODAY!” followed by “Would you like to donate and support our country?”
My American buddies and I were so shocked by the randomness of the situation (but… but… your troops arn’t fighting for us? and this is not my country… and we are povo exchange students who can barely afford to eat let alone donate money to lobby groups) that we stood there like idiots for what seemed like ages before my friend said “um no…” and I said “Not really,” and then we walked off as quickly as we could before we got lynched for being unpatriotic citizens or something. The result of this encounter meant that we were all too afraid to go through the centre of the arcade so we had to keep taking the long way round to get to the shops we were trying to get to.
c) Finally, we finished our shopping and went back to get the Sainsbury’s bus. We waited there for ages, and ages and ages… the line of students grew and grew and still no bus…
Again, we insisted upon waiting for the bus on the principle that it was free and we didn’t want to pay to get back to College. It became a kind of contest. Who would out wait everyone else? After an hour and fifteen minutes and still no bus, five of us remained. It was cold and we were tired so we gave up together, walked to the bus station, paid for a bus, and begged the driver to go via university even though it wasn’t on his route.
Ha. Ha. I love Sainsbury’s and their evil, evil sense of humour. Won’t it be really funny to watch all the freezing exchange students stand there waiting for a BUS THAT IS NEVER GOING TO COME. Ha Ha Sainsbury’s. Thanks for looking out for me while I’m in Britain! *cough* I just so appreciate it.
Ahem. Anyway, we climbed the four flights of stairs to our flat and decided to make hot chocolate because we were tired, grumpy and cold… only to find out that my flat mate had bought coffee by accident.
My flat mate has decided she is now sleeping through Wednesdays.
On a more positive note, I am seeing Hamlet tomorrow… and thank goodness I didn’t book my ticket for a Wednesday 😉