Post-Baikal blues

Again I fall guilty of failing to keep the blog updated, and for this I apologise. Since coming back from Baikal things have all been rather hectic as it became apparent we had dangerously neglected our year abroad essays in favour of snow and vodka related frolics. With  June on the horizon and not even a smidgen of slush underfoot these excuses began to sound more and more hollow we have consequently subjected ourselves to a grueling library regime that has no doubt left the guards wondering what has overcome some of the rowdiest members of the общежите.  I believe I mentioned in my last blog the ‘turning into a crocodile’ phenomenon that had blighted us in the spring transition…now we are suffering from another condition – I call it the post-Baikal blues.

Our trip began over three weeks ago when we left Tomsk on an incredibly crowded электричка headed for Тайга, somewhere that potentially wins the award for the most depressing place I have visited of late. We decided to leave the train station to stretch our legs and were greeted with more than the normal amount of potentially rabid dogs and Soviet architecture. Spirits not damped however, we had a play on the roundabout with some rather zealous Russian children before boarding the Trans-Siberian to Irkutsk. Our tickets were 3rd class on the way, which is definitely a must-do experience for any intrepid Russian traveller/anyone who doesn’t mind having no personal privacy! When we clambered onto the train (a feat in itself) I couldn’t quite imagine how we would survive the impossibly long stretch of time before us. Although our Russian teachers and friends had expressed concern about our planned journey (our coordinator even insisted on giving us a 5 page list of medications to buy from the pharmacy in preparation), in the end all was fine, and we could even claim to be rowdier than the Russian passengers as we swigged beer and played endless games of ‘Durak’.  I was usually the Durak.

The evening of the first day wore on (this sounds almost biblical) and we even succeeded in making some new friends –  by this I mean I decided the train would be the perfect place to practice my Russian and thus pounced on the poor student opposite the aisle from us. Engaging her in an hour long conversation that to my beer-mellowed mind seemed dare I say…flowing…we covered numerous subjeсts including alcoholism, the economic crisis and popular music. Sally did have to gently suggest I should refrain from asking strangers about politics as she overheard me inquiring about Putin’s ‘strong man’ image in the Russian media though. Oopsies. The worst part of the train had to be the toilets that flushed straight onto the track and my inability to climb onto the top bunk  post-train party. I distinctly remember one of the Russian passengers (who oddly happened to have lived in New York for 6 years?) giving my bum a push and shouting ‘Crawl! crawl!’ at me. An amusing sight for all I am sure. A lot of napping, eating and kindling (by this I mean kindle reading, not fire-making) later, we arrived in Irkutsk. I can safely say I have never felt more troll-like as I emerged from the dark, incredibly humid and sweaty conditions of that train into the light of the outside world.

sal and panda

sal and panda

sloth and I

sloth and I

Although the weather was awful on our arrival and one of my first sights on emerging from the train station was a large amount of abandoned needles (Irkutsk is coincidentally the HIV capital of Russia), the day after our arrival the sun arrived to lift everyone’s spirits. I even got to pull out the sunglasses as we tripped merrily around the city visiting church after church after bar after church. I had initially been dubious of Irkutsk’s status as ‘the Paris of Siberia’ and although I’m not quite sure it lives up to the French capital in terms of beauty, it was definitely surprisingly attractive in the sun. We profited by walking along the river, getting ice-creams and achieving our first Russian sun-burn. It seemed our poor pale faces just couldn’t deal with the scorching 15C + temperatures…

Irkutsk

Irkutsk

The next day we headed to Listvyanka, (which is not really famous for anything apart from its location by the lake shore) and caught our first glimpse of Baikal. The bus journey down was rather torturous as the Mashroutka driver seemed intent on punishing us for having drunk a little the night before by charging over the potholes at alarming speed. Fortunately, our valiant journeying efforts were greeted by a free upgrade in the beautiful eco-hostel that we had chosen. We pottered down to the shore after dumping our bags and spent a while just staring at the vast expanse of ice before us. Baikal was still mostly frozen, and it is so big that it just looks like an ocean when you stare out to the other side. I’m not even sure I can really describe it so here are a few photos for reference. It was completely beautiful!

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Team Tomsk

Team Tomsk

Whilst at Listvyanka we took the opportunity to sample ‘Omul’, the fish species native to the lake. The fish market was an interesting experience and although we were warned about potential food poisoning, we couldn’t say no to the crowds of бабушки wanting us to sample their catches. When in Rome after all…It is very tasty and I tried both the smoked and un-smoked variety, although I did feel a little guilty when I returned and googled it to find it is actually an endangered species. Sorry Mr.Omul!

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After a day of walking and fish-fuelled fun, there is no better way to unwind than by taking a traditional Russian баня, which is essentially a slightly more hard-core sauna. It was a rather tamer affair than normal as we were not packed into the room with a large number of naked strangers but rather rented it privately to properly relax. The hostel owner gave us some advice before entering such as ‘Just listen to what your body is telling you’ and ‘Make sure to detox, perhaps take a green tea with you’. We initially followed the latter advice but quickly realised what our bodies were actually telling us to do was drink a cold beer and so we began on the ‘Три медведя’. It was great to  sweat away the toxins whilst actually feeling very clean, and I found the whole experience quite spiritual, especially when we decided to do things the Russian way and just get naked. There is no closer bond than the bond of three girls who have thrown buckets of cold water over each other’s steaming bodies. But that is a story for another time…

After cleansing bodies and minds at the edge of the largest freshwater lake in the world it was high time to find our inner Buryat (not to be confused with Borat). We hopped on another train (this one a mere 7 hours) and circumnavigated the lake, experiencing some beautiful views on the way, before arriving at Ulan-Ude. As previously mentioned, this is the Buryat capital of Russia, the Buryat people being the major Northern sub-group of Mongols. Ulan-Ude has a lot to boast besides just its main claim to fame – being home to the largest Lenin head in the word (see photo below). Apparently he looks a little cross-eyed from the front. Apart from selfies with Lenin, we spent our time sight-seeing, drinking cocktails and visiting various Datsans (Buddhist temples). My favourite of these was Ivolginksy Datsan, the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Russia. Interestingly, it was mainly built by money given by Stalin to the Buryat people in recognition of their sacrifices during the Second World War. Incongruous I know. The hour bus journey out of the city was well worth it when we arrived to stunning panoramic views of the mountains and steppe. After eating a traditional Buryat lunch in a yurt and accidentally participating in a one and a half hour Buddhist service (we thought it would be rude to leave half way through), I was feeling well and truly at inner peace with myself. The most intriguing factor of the service itself was the gifts given to the monks. In rising order of curiosity these included; sweets, green tea, milk, a beef joint, some butter and lastly a large amount of vodka. The monks seemed to be having a great time.

Ulan-Ude

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All too soon it was time to catch the train  back to Tomsk (this journey a casual 33 hours). But not before a final pub session in which a hefty amount of personal history emerged from all parties, there is no bonding like Baikal bonding. The most amusing consequence of this Siberian Stella binge was the mildly inebriated super-market shopping engaged in by some members of the group. We ended up with blue cheese, two chickens and even some bacon for the trip.  Having splashed out on a kupe (2nd class) for our return, we profited from some more space, a comfier bed and a (supposedly) closing door to our compartment. Nothing of much note happened on our return apart from Phil befriending a Russian man called Vlodya who was enthusiastically celebrating ‘Victory Day’ (the Russian holiday celebrating victory over the Germans) in his cabin. We began to wonder where the sloth had got to when he reappeared and told us he had asked for a lighter only to be invited in for some cheese, sausage and vodka shots. It suddenly all made sense.

Although it was great to get away, it was also nice to get back to the safe and familiar territory of our beloved Tomsk (although not so much the TPU library). I can’t really believe how much time has flown and it only really hit home as I bought my tickets yesterday that I am only going to be eating unidentified meat products for another month! Fortunately, we are planning to go out with a bang and are in the process of organising a British-themed party on Friday for our international friends. I will also be turning 21 on Sunday so I am sure there will be some stories for the next blog! Some tea-related games of ‘hidden shot’ are definitely in order.

Turning into a crocodile

A busy old time in Siberia has led to a large time lapse between this and my last blog post. So long in fact that Spring has finally arrived, the snow is melting and people are even beginning to smile on the street! I for one am particularly happy about this timely arrival of warmer weather as the ice has not been my friend. There is a small incline on the exit to our halls (affectionately known as the slope of death) that has claimed me as its victim too many times to count. On one of our early outings, having foolishly swapped from my snow boots to my ‘party boots’, (the ‘party’ prefix referring to fact they are the only vaguely acceptable form of footwear for a nightclub) I managed to fall a grand total of 5 times on this one section of frozen water alone. I am going to mainly blame this on my foolish self following Sally’s helpful advice ‘Just charge up it!’. Although valiant, my efforts were not entirely successful and my legs have been a patchwork of blue, green and yellow bruising that I will not miss now that Tomsk is experiencing balmy temperatures of up to 13C!

Lessons continue to trundle along, and my feelings concerning my language improvements oscillate between hope of eventual proficiency and wanting to crawl under a rock and die, the latter has been the stronger emotion this week. One of our most amusing class excursions to date happened in our weekly writing lesson. In Russia, they seem to take this concept seriously and we literally spend the 90 minutes of our class composing epistolary gems to varying audiences. To spice things up from the normal monotony, our teacher asked us to compose a letter about our dazzling Siberian lives and last week’s lesson involved us learning how to fill in an envelope ( I joke not) followed by a walk with our teacher to the post office where we took it in turns to sheepishly approach the desk and buy the appropriate stamps. Before we were allowed to even fulfil this task however, our teacher insisted on explaining we were foreign and apologising to the post-office worker for the quality of our Russian. Stamps safely purchased, we were finally allowed to retreat to our dormitory clutching but the smallest scraps of our remaining dignity (although the teacher still made sure she escorted us most of the way home lest we get lost). I haven’t yet heard back from Marina in Novosibisrk but I live in hope. Updates to follow in the next blog.

some beautiful spring sunshine

some beautiful spring sunshine

In other news and following on from a theme of unusual excursions, we attended an English party on the outskirts of Tomsk (getting lost for a casual hour and half on the way and being followed by potentially rabid dogs) in which we somehow became the guests of honour and Sally and I engaged in a conversation with a lady that honestly said ‘Please call me Miss.Marple’. The party had been organised by an intrepid little group of enthusiasts that gather under the banner ‘Friends and Fans of the English Language’. We arrived at the hall with little idea what to expect…we came away mildly shell-shocked but highly amused.  The evening featured an enactment of some kind of warped Top Gear, an awkward moment in which someone poured us red wine in shot glasses (take me seriously please) and one particularly awful point at which we were summoned to the dancefloor to learn some group choreography. Despite the somewhat awkward social interactions I engaged in that night, I left the building with a warm fuzzy feeling inside only partly due to the various libations we had been poured. Who knew that an Agatha Christie loving enclave of society could be found in even the iciest corner of the world?

lost and being chased by rabid dogs

lost and being chased by rabid dogs

Treats also came our way in the from our Bristol Russian teacher who made it out to Siberia on a ‘pastoral’ visit. Panic had ensued somewhat amongst team Tomsk at the prospect of this trip due to the uneasy jokes she had been making about her expectations for our ‘fluency’. Luckily these were cast aside when she arrived, gave us a hug(!?!) and brought out a bag of tea and Bisto before taking us for a meal at an amazing library-esque restaurant. The food was delicious and washed down with a healthy amount of toasts to our lingusitic futures, following which the evening took an even more exciting turn when it was revealed that Tsar Nicolas II used to frequent the restaurant and play on its Billiard table. Not a group to turn down a photo opportunity, we gladly entered the closed off side-room and pulled some poses with the famous cues and balls (cheeky).

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Nicholas II’s Billiards table

Alongside our studies, we have also been teaching two English classes each week. The class is a diverse mix of students, enthusiasts and even a genetic scientist. I will freely admit that the first lessons were quite painful as we smiled and stammered our way through a series of grammar exercises that even we weren’t sure we understood, but I now feel that we have built something of an affinity with our class. Sally and I were even given tickets to one of our pupil’s Flamenco dance shows so I will let you all know how that goes at the end of May. Although I am hardly one to talk when it comes to pronunciation in a foreign language, I can’t help but find some of our pupils saliva-filled attempts at saying the ‘h’ sound amusing. On Tuesday one of our students Dasha was reading a text about gender equality, and managed to say the sentence ‘women are always doing chores’ as ‘women are always doing whores’. I might have controlled myself more if Marta (another student) hadn’t misunderstood our definition of ‘neeps and tatties’ earlier in the lesson- I think you can see where this is going…

Moral has been a bit low in the camp of late due to a phenomenon which we like to call crocodile-ification. The harsh winds, icy weather and ridiculous indoor heating mean that our hair is limp, our skin dry and dare I say, even on occasion rather scaly. Sally, Abigail and I headed to the local supermarket to stock up on SOS hand and body creams labelled ‘for VERY dry skin’. I realise this compliant may seem slightly shallow but the daily reality of feeling like a crocodile in snow boots has ground down my confidence, particularly when leggy, stiletto-wearing Russian ladies seem to be unaffected by their harsh climate. In fact the Russians are always so well groomed and straight-haired that they appear baffled by my slightly more voluminous lion-mane. A few weeks ago we frequented the classy club ‘Fakel’ ( a vast expanse of underwear-clad podium dancers and dodgy mullets) and I was happily dancing away when some girls at the bar beckoned to me. Confused, I assumed I had knocked one of them with my drink and moved to apologise. Little did I know their true intentions. Before I knew what had happened they brandished two combs and began forcibly brushing my hair, evidently bemused as to why I had opted for a more laissez-faire attitude to my appearance than them. It was very odd and slighty troubling…I haven’t returned to the club since and I find myself patting my hair down in public. In good news, to tempt ourselves away from a crocodile-esque pit of depression we bought tickets to visit lake Baikal at the beginning of May, meaning that we will finally experience the Trans-Siberian railway! I am thrilled and terrified in equal measure at the thought of 30 hours in the 3rd class carriage of a Russian train, but I feel that as long as we have enough vodka and snacks for the journey, what could possibly go wrong?

tickets to Baikal!

tickets to Baikal!

My next update will thus hopefully be filled of descriptions of the beautiful lake and its magical properties. Rumours abound (and by that I mean I read on one website) that a bathe in its waters gives you an extra 5 years of life! After the toxic Moscow air I inhaled during our brief visit there in February, I feel I will be needing them.

The Motherland and attempts to find my inner Russian

As I write this I am safely settled at my desk, 4000 miles, 7 times zones and a continent away from England. Seeing these statistics in print does make me feel like an intrepid and doomed explorer, but luckily I have a cup of British tea gently steaming next to me to provide a comforting contrast to the frosty chill outside. Our adventure started bright and early exactly three weeks ago when Phil, Abi, Sally and I congregated sleepily by the Gatwick Air Baltic check-in desk and bid a fond adieu to our parents. Due to luggage restrictions I was obliged to wear full thermals, winter boots and a goose-down coat  as we strolled through duty-free. 20kg is really not very much when you have to factor in 10kg of socks (warding off frostbite) and I did feel the packing process was a little Sophie’s choice-esque. My snood or my favourite scarf? Another pair of leggings or a t-shirt that I might not wear until the snows melted in around May? Eventually the feat was accomplished and our voyage was underway. A brief stop-over in Riga (smallest airport lounge in the world) and we descended into Moscow that evening to be greeted by a dubstep listening taxi driver from the hostel. Wearily stepping into the unmarked and dust covered car I feared that Sally and I might never see the rest of our team again as we swerved around the Moscow side streets. Fortunately no one was abducted, and after some celebratory vodka and a heated discussion with an indignant American we decided to call it a night ready for a full day of sight-seeing.

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Team Tomsk

Moscow offers some baffling contrasts. On the one hand, the amazing luxury department store ГУМ which is reminiscent of one of those faux Venetian hotels in Las Vegas, on the other, blocks of Soviet flats next to Onion-domed Orthodox churches. It is definitely a lot more ‘Russian’ than St.Petersburg (which reminded me of a slightly more Eastern Amsterdam) and we thought fondly back to our first lessons with Dorinda’s beloved ‘Peter Green’ as we meandered around Red Square and the Arbat. There was far too much to do in the two days that we had before catching our connecting flight to Tomsk but we tried our best and managed to negociate metros and the terrifying prospect of crossing 6 lanes of traffic without major incident. To celebrate arriving in Russia with baggage and bodies intact we hit the town for a few drinks, somehow bringing the majority of ‘Godzilla hostel’ Moscow with us. It was not long before chaos ensued. Some fell on black ice, some got locked in bathrooms, some suffered head injuries and others simply decided to nap in the bar…luckily we made it back to our dorm room in one piece only to awaken the next morning feeling sore, bemused and most worryingly of all, with no idea how we had managed to get home when are Russian was shakey at best and we didn’t know the name of our street. Initial plans to take it easy had gone out of the window when we gleefully saw that whole bottles of vodka could be purchased for just over £3. We suffered  the results of this youthful folly as we spent the day stumbling (I did in fact fully face-plant on the ice) around Gorky park and taking a disorientating late night flight a further 4 time zones forward, arriving in Tomsk to a snow storm at 7am the following morning.

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Onion domes and tower blocks

For those of you who don’t know, Tomsk is tucked in the very centre of Russia, probably about as far from the sea as you could ever get. Before arriving I did a bit of research (checked out the Wikipedia page) and found that Tomsk is known for its wooden architecture and for being a thriving student city. I had initially thought it would be bleak, grey and very very cold, and although some of these things may be true some of the time, Tomsk really isn’t a gulag. You can even buy avocadoes! Jokes aside we have found the people only a little brusque, the vodka cheap and although there is no MacDonald’s until you reach Novosibirsk (a good 5 hours away), carb-filled hangover  food can be found aplenty at ОШ, a local Uzbek eatery. Our halls are full of other international students which was a pleasant surprise (although maybe not the best for our Russian) making the whole experience like a multicultural fresher’s week. University is also proving fun, despite the fact we have spent most of our time being shouted at by various Russian women and agreeing to things we are not entirely sure we have understood. Our first 4 hour phonetics lesson will be imprinted on my mind for some time to come. It transpired that we have been pronouncing all of our Russian words incomprehensibly for the last two years and Anna, our teacher, was at pains to rectify it. I’m not sure how many times we had to say мо-ло-ко’ that lesson but I will never again overlook the unstressed vowels . It is a bit of a depressing shock going from a country where you feel you have go to grips with the language enough to have a social life and be a vaguely interesting person, to a country where you can barely order a coffee without forgetting to put something in the genitive case and you feel like crying every time you go to a grammar class. BUT I am hoping (against hope?) that 15 hours a week in a class of 4 will work wonders. Or miracles, depending how you look at it.

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traditional Tomsk(ian?) wooden house

a little chilly

a little chilly

The best way to integrate in any country is to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself. As mentioned earlier, of course this becomes even more interesting when you haven’t entirely understood what is being offered… During the last two weeks I have been on a snowy trek through the Siberian wilderness, attended a Russian puppet show adaption of the ‘The little Prince’ ( I may never sleep again) and even been skiing for the first time! The latter activity was a long time in the coming and although skiing in chinos is probably not to be recommended for the feint-hearted, I survived with body (although not pride) intact. Shout out to Team Tomsk who valiantly took on the task of teaching me the snow plough and followed behind to pick up lost poles and dust off snowy knees. By the third run I seriously thought I was improving but in a moment of unjustified audaciousness managed to land straight in a huge snow bank. A ski warden called Anton came over to pick me up and we had a nice chat about his Russian origins, until he insisted on following me the rest of the way down the run and scooping me up the further 4 times I took a tumble. I finally joined Abi and Sally at the ski lift only to fall over once more at the penultimate moment in front of a distinctly unamused Russian crowd. It was a fun day though and I will definitely be sampling some winter sports once my bruises have disappeared from the exploit. In other social news, we made it to our first Siberian nightclub a week ago – an experience not to be missed for any exile. I can only assume the club’s name Pravda makes some reference to the old Communist newspaper, apparently it also has Soviet decor inside but it was far too busy for me to properly investigate due to Women’s day celebrations so I’ll let you know next time. Either way it was a good night, the club was full of strange men in suits and the coat check girls were frosty but if you ask me you can’t go far wrong in a place that has ‘Numa numa’ on the playlist.

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skiing in chinos

Our introduction to Russian culture has been a steep learning curve, particularly to the cuisine. So that people don’t perish in the freezing temperatures the motto here seems to be ‘the stodgier the better’. This has led to the creation of the flat ‘Stodge scale’ where we record the density factor of various products. Top of the list currently are some Pilmeni that we cooked before our Moscow night out ( a 9). Blinis (Russian pancakes) are however, fast becoming our food of choice. Maslenitsa started in Russian on Monday, this is as far as I can understand a week long pancake fest in which overeating and indulgence are encouraged before Orthodox lent begins. We celebrated the start of this with a Maslenitsa celebration organised by the university, involving some kind of giant woman doll being brought into the room by a  procession of ladies in traditional dress. To be honest, I understood very little of what was going on but I did enjoy the Cossack dancing. Thighs of steal would be an understatement. A free blini and some entertaining dancing later (believe both Sally and Phil had to join in) we called it a day and decided to leave the proper festivities for Sunday when an even bigger lady doll is burnt in the football stadium here. Apparently if she goes with a bang it means there will be a good harvest – fingers crossed! This obscenely long post should hopefully make up for the stoic silence of the last few weeks. More updates to follow and be reassured that I don’t have frostbite yet…

Thermal Queen

I am in the strange transitional no man’s land between Lyon and Russia and although it feels a bit weird writing a blog post from my sofa in decidedly un-exotic Hertfordshire I realised it would be strange not to round off my adventures in France and express my growing fear about the Russian snow I am about to experience! As I mentioned in my last blog post, I think ‘mixed emotions’ is probably the best way to summarise how I feel. On the one hand I couldn’t wait to finally come home, be looked after and eat cheddar, whilst on the other it is strange to no longer be a chic, French individual (ok this was never the case) with a beautiful city centre apartment and an actual job. Having lived solo and independent for 7 months I feel very child-like coming home and not even being on the car insurance. But I’m sure when I’m in Russia rocking backwards and forwards to comfort myself and forgetting what it ever felt like to be warm I will cherish these three weeks of relative calm.

I profited from my last weekend in Lyon to the full as my sister Hannah came out for an impromptu birthday fiesta. We celebrated by going to a 1920’s style cocktail bar where the waiters wore braces and crushed ice in a seductive manner. Exciting moments included having an absinthe cocktail set alight and being given free birthday champagne when I explained we were celebrating! The night began to get hazy after the third drink and we somehow befriended a group of Dutch businessmen (I know this sounds very dodgy but they were really nice), and after dancing away in several different clubs (was told to leave the first for being too raucous) it ended when we managed to blag a free taxi ride home. Unfortunately this meant that Hannah celebrated her 23rd with a monumental hangover but the memories from that night will no doubt live on in family memory for a long time to come. Our parents are so proud. We of course sampled some more Savoyard cuisine including tartiflette pizza. Potato on a pizza shouldn’t work but it just does. Coincidentally the restaurant also featured an amusing urinal, photos below. Before anyone wonders why I was in the men’s let me point out it was one of those strange French sharing toilets (shudders).

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One of the saddest things about leaving any place is of course friends you have to say goodbye to. My lovely copine Anna has been very polite in not laughing at my paltry attempts to speak Russian with her but she did decide that if I was off to Tomsk the best way of impressing the guys and unleashing my inner Siberian goddess would be to learn how to cook like a good Russian girl. My flat kitchen thus became a mini Голубцы factory. Голубцы is the name for a dish in which you make little parcels, typically with some kind of meat or vegetable and rice, by wrapping a cabbage leaf around the inner filling. This is fun but incredibly time consuming, Anna was not impressed when I commented ‘Oh, it’s like a Russian fajita’; her stony faced response was ‘No, fajitas are like Russian Голубцы’. I think Anna and Anastasia my flatmate (confusing I know) quite enjoy telling me stories about their motherland to scare me and I have to say with only 8 days to go fear is definitely growing. I’m going to try and not think about what the food there will be like but if our Russian meal was anything to go by it will be heavy and feature a lot of meat and sour cream. Anna told me that I will need to eat more when I am out there or I will ‘perish in the cold’. A cheery prospect.

Bringing out my inner Russian

Bringing out my inner Russian

My last day at the office was very surreal; I think until I actually arrived in England it didn’t really register that I was going away. The staff  at work were very sweet and gave me a bag of gifts including some Russian teas and a big box of artisan chocolate (far too artisan for my taste – who makes blue chocolates?) as well as a huge card signed by everyone. It was really lovely but so embarrassing as they presented it to me in front of everyone and I had to make an uncomfortable speech. Fatigue and emotion overwhelmed me at this point and I could feel my cheeks burning as I stammered a few phrases featuring ‘Vous êtes très gentils’ over and over… I then also forgot the name of the company director. Think Bridget Jones and the ‘Mr. Titspervert’ moment for those who share my cultural reference catalogue. I went back to the apartment, did a final sweep to verify I hadn’t left anything behind and made my way to the station. Shout out again to Anna here (angel) who helped me carry my heavy bags and bid me a really sad farewell as the Rhône Express set of to the airport. It is strange to think that only 4 months previously I had arrived at the same airport with no friends, no idea where I was going and absolutely no idea what Marketing entailed… how much changed! Thank you Lyon and I will look back fondly at all of the experiences I had with you.

When one door closes, another opens. Or rather you have to begin the process of banging against another door in the desperate hope someone will let you in. This door is Russian bureaucracy. An HIV test, several immunisations and a hefty £140 later I finally have a visa and am leaving tomorrow – hence the procrastination blog post. I have prepared for the heady -20C I expect in Tomsk by buying anything with the prefix ‘thermal’. I tested these attractive garments out when I went to Helsinki for the weekend to celebrate my friend’s (shout out to Chloe!) 21st. We ate reindeer, saw the sights and ended up in a bizarre nightclub with a ‘black’ and a ‘white’ room. We couldn’t work out if this was an ironic reference to the music being played or something more sinister. The clubbing experience was definitely interesting, featuring a cocktail we ordered composed of some mint liqueur and topped up with milk (never take drinks suggestions from a drunken Finnish girl you find in the toilets) and some euro-trash dancing in winter boots. I loved the coat check system where for 3 euros you could essentially take off all your clothes and leave them under the same ticket in the cloakroom. We felt a little overdressed queuing behind a girl in jeans and a duffel coat in the until she stripped off her jeans and coat to reveal some hot pants. It was very Bucks Fizz.

Chlo and Rach confused by the milk ocktails

Chlo and Rach confused by the milk cocktails

Although I found all the Finnish snow incredibly beautiful for a couple of days I am not sure how the daily reality of trudging to lectures will affect my enthusiasm. I will be looking less Russian chic and more Michelin man wannabe in my goose-down ensemble I fear. Nevertheless, I am just excited to be going now; I have seen the inside of far too many airports in the past month. On that note I had best weigh my cases and brace myself for the gulags. You can’t help but feel nervous about a place your lecturer suggests you take your own disposable syringes to…

Clooney and a café-philosophique

My countdown has begun; there are but 7 days that separate me from the Motherland (the English one, not the Russian one). I am experiencing characteristically mixed emotions about it all, heightened by the realisation that I have just passed my 7 month anniversary of living in France. I think it’s fair to say we have had a long-term thing going on and for the most part, he has treated me remarkably well (I use ‘he’ here because it fits with the metaphor, I am fully aware France is probably a lady what with the Marianne and her penchant for cheeky glasses of wine). Dare I say I have even decided to turn over a new leaf of sophistication this year in light of my admiration for the chic French types? Although I must admit the high hopes I held in my last blog post for detoxing didn’t go so much to plan…once I had got through the 20 sachets of white tea the temptation of high cholesterol products combined with a stressful week at work and plentiful ‘tickets restos’ led too a few late night subway binges (v.French). This is particularly embarrassing as I always visit the same one (next door to my house) and due to my English accent they recognise me there now and talk to me in uncomfortably familiar terms.  I dislike being judged for asking for two types of meat in my sandwich, especially when it comes with a raised French eyebrow and a ‘vous êtes sûr ? ‘.

But moving on from sandwich guilt… I have been indulging in some last cultural activities as a farewell to this fine city. Having done some research into underground events in the Lyon area I discovered a ‘café-philosophique’ next to place Bellecour. Intrigued and filled with a hazy desire to bump into a brooding Sartre type, I coerced my friend Magdha into accompanying me (girl from the wine smashing incident circa September 2012 if you have read any other posts). The debate was on gay marriage, which is very topical in France at the moment due to Hollande’s support for pushing through legislation and the massive anti-gay marriage protest in Paris at the beginning of January. Sadly hopes of encountering a circle of young revolutionary types were dashed as we realised the majority of people involved were more around the parent-age, but there was nevertheless a lot of energy exuded from the crowd – and by that I mean a lot of loooong vehement speeches. Three invited speakers proposed their views and then opened up the debate to the crowd,  allowing anyone to join in. I’m ashamed to say I was too shy to tempt a response –the 30 or so older and very intellectual participants were a scary prospect for my tender young soul and so instead I lapsed into exaggerated nodding and gentle applause at convenient moments. There is always one person at a debate who has to pipe up at EVERY point. This role was taken by a short, aggressively permed woman in the corner who no matter whether she was agreeing or disagreeing, seemed to have the same expression of loathing on her face. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had just had a bad day and needed someone to shout at. Best reaction to her involved an elderly gentleman doing the old Jay-Z ‘shoulder brush-off’ gesture…how that reached the upper echelons of Lyon society I will never know. It was interesting but very intense and needless to say it was around an hour into the debate that I broken my no alcohol January resolution.

Cafe de la clohe, Lyon

Café de la Cloche, Lyon


Logistically this month has also involved me organising my last dealing with the bank that has been the bane of my life…BNP Paribas. I’m pretty sure the lady who operates the front desk has never looked so pleased to be rid of a client. Although every other bank transaction, transfer and administrative task has been a nightmare requiring several calls to customer services and nearly tearful face-to-face confrontations, asking to close my account was not even met by a sarcastic ‘pourquoi ?’. She is either in love or just very glad that I am off. For my last couple of weeks in Lyon the construction work on the front of the building has also finally finished – this both means I can once more use my balcony as a daydreaming spot to pretend I am Rapunzel and that I no longer have to fear being confronted by a workman whilst wearing nothing but a towel. Hurrah for personal privacy. Coincidentally my room is actually 20% glass as one of the walls is just bay windows. Not so good when you are having a pity stretch and don’t want people to know you have been wearing the same snood day and night for 2 weeks (it has become like a baby blanket for me) but excellent for covert spying on the apartments across the street à la Hitchcock film ‘Rear window’. For the last four months I have followed the culinary hopes and dreams of my neighbours as they eat dinner together every night around 8pm. I always think this is quite late considering they have small children but that is France for you and just something I have to accept; like the way that adults are allowed to eat fruit compotes and still be taken seriously.

My last week in Lyon also indicates that the end of my internship is also nigh. I had to fill in a form today detailing my positive and negative experiences working with the Lizeo group. Positive – browsing social media sites as a work activity. Negative – being looked at scathingly every time I add milk to a hot beverage. I still can’t really believe I have become a techy, one of the I.T crowd, someone who can legitimately say that they spent their day manipulating HTML codes…but I am. Although it makes me feel a bit like God when I make things appear and disappear from a proper website at the click of a button, I still can’t quite take myself seriously. Especially when I receive a daily e-mail update from someone whose job role is simply ‘Webmaster’ – very Harry Potter. Much though the working world is fun in its own way I can’t wait to be a student again. Luckily all my colleagues are lovely – gaze below for a photo of our latest Marketing assistant soirée. Unfortunately you can’t see from the photo, but the pizza boxes actually featured George Clooney. As a newly fledged member of the Marketing industry I couldn’t help but admire this clever publicity …

And there we have it, some occurrences from my January in Lyon.

an impressive 6 nationalities represented!

an impressive 6 nationalities represented!

Post-Savoyard detoxing

We survived in the face of those pesky Mayans!  Hurrah and hello 2013. As we still exist and the world of Marketing never sleeps I have already been summoned back to the Orange Cube (see previous posts) and am now once again at the helm of the English desk; the desk comprising just myself and a large snack pile. How anyone can get through a long day at the office without pepping themselves up every half an hour with a sugary treat is beyond me. Snack of choice today: a Terry’s chocolate orange (why thank you Father Christmas).  Being the congenial colleague I am, I shared a few segments out during our pause café. ‘Un orange au chocolat ?’ Maximilian (genuine name) said as he eyed it warily. Yes Max, yes it is and you have not lived until you have tried it. To accompany this festive delicacy I decided to buy myself some white tea during lunch, this is apparently even better for you than green tea and should surely go some way to detoxing my poor, besieged body, which is suffering from the effects of far too much Christmas cheer. Ozlem and Helena (two of the other marketing assistants) have also joined me in this beverage ‘medicament’ so I will let you know if we achieve the beauty, lower tendency for heart disease and healthy gums that the packet promises.

Speaking of the need to detox, upon returning to France I have once again been struck by how much thinner French people seem to be than their English counterparts. Can it be down to their cigarettes or do they just have magic genes? This question is particularly pertinent in my region of France – the Rhône-Alpes. Savoyard cuisine is the plat du jour here, and if you give it a Google Wikipedia will happily inform you that it comprises ‘rich’ food, with the principal components including potatoes, strong cheeses, sausage, cream and various other dried and smoked meats. A cholesterol bomb essentially, but oh so tasty. During my gluttonous December I got to sample the king of Savoyard cuisine: raclette. One of my work colleagues Raquel invited the rest of us long suffering marketing assistants around to test-run her new raclette machine. The name raclette comes from ‘racler’ – ‘to scrape’, this is because in fancy restaurants waiters visit your table with massive chunks of cheese and scrape the melting end on your plate. À la maison, a raclette machine has a hot plate and you grill slices of cheese underneath it, and then pour the melty goodness over new potatoes and charcuterie. I greedily put about 5 slices of cheese at a time under the grill and kept up this pace for a good part of the evening (love that when indulging in raclette no one can really tell how much you have eaten as your plate is so small). Needless to say I am now well on the road to looking like Rolly.

What happens when you eat too much Savoyard cuisine

What happens when you eat too much Savoyard cuisine

Pleasantly filled with wine and cheese a discussion about French men began between the very international cohort assembled. Despite the other four girls (one Dutch, one Czech, one French and one Spanish) all having French boyfriends, their advice to me as the baby of the group was surprising ‘Never get involved with a French man, you will regret it’. Mildly astounded by this revelation I tentatively ventured the question ‘Why?’ Camille turned to me, ‘Ecoutes-moi Ruth’ and went on to explain that apparently their seemingly charming behaviour is but a façade. Once they’ve got the goodies, they become the charmless, dominant and inattentive ‘bœufs’ that all women dread. Why else she asked, would chauvinism be the eponym of a Frenchman? I later googled this and found it to be true, not that the unsuspecting 18th century Nicolas Chauvin would have ever dreamed of this notoriety. Despite this pessimistic outlook and some admittedly rather forward nightclub advances from slimy natives, I refuse to tarnish a whole country with the same brush and so will sweep on to the next item on the agenda.

The month of December featured a star appearance from the one and only Sally Kopp, fresh off the plane from Valencia (via Barcelona). Although our Thursday night outing was a bit of a fail due to an appearance of our dear friend’s alter ego ‘Kally Slopp’, we had a successful weekend of tartiflette, glow-stick mojitos and even a random après-soiree with some unidentified Irish people.  What a bohemian life. All these fun Lyon times are going to very soon reach an end which is a rather strange thought. This struck me in the last week of December as a lot the new friends I have met here went back to their respective countries, never to return again. I found myself engaged in odd conversations like ‘Well if you ever drop into Montréal…’ and ‘Russia really isn’t’ that far away’, trying to trick myself away from the precipice of parting angst. I’m only glad I still have a whole semester of Siberian fun left (is this an oxymoron?) otherwise I feel I would verge dangerously near knitting a papoose and climbing into it to comfort myself.

Pretty girls on a bridge

Pretty girls (Verity and Sals) on a bridge

mojitos having a private rave

mojitos having a private rave

Luckily the distraction of Christmas was there to placate me, with my young sister serving as the family Cheermeister and various relatives taking the role of the Grinch, threatening to steal my Christmas spirit. No I jest. It was lovely; I ate and drank and ate some more and very much appreciated a ten day break of no French people and little prospect of needing to create a spreadsheet on demand. I also got to see the beautiful Gemma Jennings for her 21st (wuv woo), cuddle Bo the puppy and make drunken toasties in Heidi’s kitchen. My favourite gift of the festive season had to be my woollen Christmas jumper featuring a 3D penguin motif, so festive that it would genuinely be impossible to wear it in any other month than December. From my parents I received an insulated, arctic coat for my trip to the Russian gulags. Yes guys, this is my life. Enjoy the photo below and sorry that this post is rather convoluted.

'It's what all the girls are wearing in Tomsk'

‘It’s what all the girls are wearing in Tomsk’

Something lost, something stolen, something broken

The one and a half hour lunch break I struggle to fill each day (even if I eat lunch like a tortoise and follow by a pause-café) has today led to me commencing a blog post. Despite my best efforts my market continues to run pretty smoothly at work, although I will admit I am being ground down by the harsh corporate world. I even found myself googling Death of Salesman quotes the other day, but this depressive streak could be down to the fact the orange cube is very concrete-filled and cold. Lyon has suddenly been hit by harsh winter weather – snow, ice and bitter winds are making me wonder how anyone can in fact live in Siberia (my next destination) as I struggle to even summon the energy to walk the 200 yards from the flat to the metro. On the plus side, Christmas markets have descended along with the chill allowing me ample excuse to sample gluhwein and wear faux fur at every opportunity.

One of my dearest friends Verity is also in Lyon for the whole of December and I like to think I have been showing her the best of what my corner of France has to offer in terms of gastronomic delights (excluding the odd hung-over McDo we have indulged in). I have been further treated to visits from Chlo (all the way from Southampton) and Lottie (all the way from Paris), which have led to a fair few interesting stories of their own. Chloe, Verity and I paid a trip to one of my favourite resto’s in Lyon called ‘L’épicerie’. I’m sure by English standards it probably would never pass a health and safety test as they cram you so that you are literally elbow to elbow with your dining neighbour and the light fittings dangle precariously from the ceiling. Three times during our meal the fuses blew out and there were cheers from the diners and mock ‘Happy Birthday’ songs as the unbothered waitresses continued to serve out the best Tartines in Lyon in the dark. This slightly eccentric dining experience is a must if you ever come to this beautiful city, but maybe not one for the faint-hearted.

It seems whenever Lottie and I are in the same place ridiculous things happen (see Paris post) and when she TGV-ed down for La fête des Lumières it was no exception. La fête des Lumières is an annual weekend-long event where illumination shows take place throughout the city and all the main sights are lit up or decorated in breath-taking light effects. There is some debate over the origins of this tradition but apparently in 1643 the plague (some plague or other anyway) was looming over Lyon ready to inflict puss-filled suffering on its inhabitants and the ‘échevins ‘ (town officials) promised to honour the Virgin Mary if she spared the city. She acquiesced and a procession was thus made to the Basilica de Fourvière to commemorate this fact. A little while later when a statue of the Virgin Mary was erected (cheeky) next to the cathedral, the town planned a big celebration. Unfortunately on the day of this inauguration (which coincided with December 8th, the celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary), a storm struck and the festivities were called off. Outraged and saddened (rather like how I felt when Jamie broke Binky’s heart on MIC), the people of the city lit candles and placed them in their windows so as not to waste a good party. This became a tradition and now there are professionally run performances for all to enjoy!

Verity and some pretty lights

Verity and some pretty lights

Sorry for the yawny history lesson, I’m pretty sure the majority of tourists in Lyon that weekend were more of the ‘Oh look at the pretty lights’ rather than ‘ Cheers Mary for not ravaging us with a plague’ variety. Nevertheless, it was all very exciting and featured lots more gluhwein and lots of ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ on our parts. Of course the number of tourists and the handy fact there was a transport strike made it almost impossible to move freely around. Bloody foreigners. Creepy French man experience of the evening involved us being approached by a rather odd type who said he would do us a ‘private show’ if we gave him some money. He appeared to be gesticulating towards the trouser area so we beat a hasty retreat.

On Saturday we skipped merrily around, doing some daytime sightseeing (H&M, frequent coffee breaks and more gluhwein) and even a ride on the giant Ferris wheel in place Bellecour. This was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. Our carriage paused at the top as some people were getting off at the bottom…leading to some rather disconcerting spinning and creaking in the pod we were located in. We did get some stunning panoramas of Lyon, which made the temporary nausea well worth it however.  After lining our stomachs with carbonara (so French) and inviting my favourite Russian over to get the drinking started a soirée folle was well underway. Attached are two photos that contrast the begininning and end of our evening (I love you Lottie). Too much happened to detail via the Internet but I’ll throw a few intriguing incidents out there.

sophisticated girls

sophisticated girls

what happens to sophisticated girls after too much fun

what happens to sophisticated girls after too much fun

-During generous pre-drinks Lottie began to engage in some misjudged gymnastics across the bedroom floor, prompting my landlady to come upstairs and ask why there were thumping sounds. Too embarrassed to explain that Lottie was attempting to do a headstand, I blamed it on some non-existent ‘talons’.

-Our metro ride involved us being mistaken for the ‘Pussy Cat Dolls’ (there were only 3 of us?) and Lottie and I swooping on a handsome passenger and trying to persuade him to let us come to his soirée.

-Lottie essentially broke her foot outside the club (no one knows how) but soldiered on for a night of boat fun despite the fact she could barely walk.

-My purse was lost/stolen, Verity drink-theived and we ended up sipping on tumblers of wine offered by some kindly men at the bar…in hindsight we really could have done without them.

We woke up the next morning, spooning in Christmas onesies and rather worse for wear, to the scene of destruction from the previous night. Tiny Tim being unable to walk, we spent the day watching ‘Russian Dolls’ and wearing the cone of shame whilst indulging in disgusting amounts of shadow-food. Despite a fail on the sunday acivity front it was such a good weekend and has made me very excited for our cosy Russian house next year.

Thankfully a kindly fellow found my cards in the club (it appeared my purse had been stolen and they had just thrown the rest of the things they didn’t want away – bastard). My faith in humanity was restored when aforementioned man met me after work to return my entire life; debit cards, driver’s licence and student card. This was all sadly a bit late as I had already cancelled everything and made a trip to the Commissariat but I was genuinely so happy to be reunited with my things I could have kissed him. Shout out to Gigou (can this be his real name?). Every cloud has a silver lining however and my conversation with the (sadly non-beau) policeman felt like the ultimate GCSE language role-play, something that often occurs to me in France. Dealing with the rather unhelpful staff of BNP Paribas has also surely set me up well for any future bureaucratic nightmares.  I genuinely feel I could be a diplomat with my acquired negotiation skills.

And there we have it for this instalment; something lost, something stolen, something broken. Tempted to write #YOLO but won’t.

Dramatic haircuts and the Kardashians hit Lyon

The Toussaint has been and gone but sadly as a faux proper person with a responsible office job I did not get to profit from from a week of indulgence outside the Lyon bustle. Shut up you people that had a luxuriant week of no stress-fun. In my more needy moments I tumble into spirals of pity over the fact I have sold my soul to the Lizeo Online Media Group for the foreseeable future, sauf a short stretch of English Christmas, but I know deep down I can’t complain too much about an internship that includes ‘tweeting’ as a viable work activity. If I happen to slip onto Millie Mackintosh’s profile during this designated tweeting time, it is of course by accident. Jest aside I did have a rather trying Monday this week as my Swedish superior Karin took the day off to go to IKEA (no seriously) and I was left to man the market by myself. Cue a rather shocking e-mail arriving at about 15h30 demanding a ‘recette’ of the entire English website to be completed for the end of the day. A ‘recette’ is basically a thorough proofread but one that also involves you having to verify every link on every page using a large dossier that would make Proust’s ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ seems like ’50 shades’… you get the picture. To make things worse I had never done a ‘recette’ before and the only person able to explain it was on the outskirts of Lyon eating meatballs. I released a shrill laugh and desperately tried to deal with this seemingly impossible task. Needless to say I was at the office past the cleaning lady. It was rather like the moment in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ where Meryl Streep asks her intern to deliver the unpublished Harry Potter scripts to her children so that they don’t get bored on their train journey. No big deal.

Moving on, since my last post I have managed to attract a French suitor (every girls dream). Walking across the bridge on the way to Tuesday night pub quiz I was accosted by my attacker and as I unwisely took my headphones out  he began to explain that he thought I was  ‘très belle’ and had a ‘visage intéressant’  so would like to take a photo.  He then took out a sketch pad and began to show me several drawings he had done to reassure me that he was an artiste as I was obviously eyeing him with large amounts of bewilderment and secondly, distrust. Any normal person would have probably ignored him, or better, pretended not to speak French but I have a habit of being horribly polite when put in awkward situations, thus unsure of what to do… I acquiesced. This led to one of the most cringe-worthy riverside photo-shoots of my life, and having given the man what I thought was enough material to create a new collection on, I hurriedly backed away as he continued taking photos. It was less like the romantic story of Picasso finding Françoise Gilot and more like the start of an 80’s slasher film – yet another bizarre experience and one that I feel I have to share with the Internet community as a cathartic measure. I was wearing my new fur deluxe coat so perhaps it has the lynx effect and such occurrences will become more frequent.

My love for furry things is no secret and here is my find of the week; a mini-gilet. I love the way French people dress their children like tiny adults.

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As for obligatory tales of French nightlife, apparently at the last Erasmus party I was too tired/inebriated to search through my purse and find the correct change for my drink so I simply gave my bag to the bartender and said  “please just give me the wine”. To his credit, he did, although I’m sure this would usually be a sign that you shouldn’t be serving the person. My first and potentially last trip to ‘Ayers Rock Boat’ (think of a bigger and more electro but equally grimy Thekla) ended in me undergoing a traumatic late-night haircut courtesy of a kind French person who threw some chewing gum at me. An unprovoked gum attack. Incidentally the last time I had an episode of this nature it was self-inflicted due to an unhealthy obsession with Willy Wonka and a belief that Violet Beauregarde ‘s idea to keep chewing gum behind her ear was a good one. Anyway, as this happened in the queue for the club I had to rely on Sophie (a friend who was visiting for the weekend) to rip out a large chunk of hair, I’m sure this would have been a lot more painful but for the wine anaesthetic. Upon entry to the apartment a few hours later it became apparent the damage was not over and I had to get the kitchen scissors out. I have a phobia of the hairdressers and haven’t had a professional cut in around 4 years so I hope this puts the trauma of the situation into perspective. I awoke the next morning bleary eyed, worse for wear and with about an inch less hair at the front…

On a positive note my lovely sisters came to visit this weekend, which provided the perfect excuse for further indulgence on an industrial scale. A visit to the steak house, some kardashian dancing and a lot of sightseeing were on the cards. In exchange for gifts of yet more tea and the essential winter item – a festive onesie, I played the tour guide and showed them around the best parts of the city. My enthusiasm drew some mockery as I have a bit of a leaf/autumn love affair and kept stopping every few hundred yards to make them admire the trees. But if you look at the photo below I think you’ll see why.

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High point of Saturday involved an Indian lady asking us to take a photo. Assuming she meant of her and her husband, I agreed, when it then hilariously transpired that she wanted a photo of herself with my two sisters to ‘show to her friends in India’.  I like to think that out there, somewhere in Mumbai, Hannah and Mirri are adorning a mantelpiece. An obligatory night out then ensued where oddly it was Hannah who had to take a time out during predrinks because she couldn’t keep up with the pace and had fallen asleep, whilst Mirri at the tender age of 17, seemed to be unaffected by the 5 bottles of wine and one bottle of vodka that we had consumed in the past 24hours. After pepping Roly (I mean Hannah) up we set out to a slightly fail night of entering a club, leaving the club, spending some time at the Spanish bar, being refused entry to another club for looking too young and then finally not getting back in to the club we had originally entered (joy of French bouncers) we went home and ate a kilo of tartiflette. Either way it was a fun evening and I didn’t lose any siblings for more than 15minutes. Win.

Here are some photos of us having a grand old time.

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Sunday involved a pity party and a trip to see my favourite gibbon. He has very long arms and looks like he would be a great hugger, perfectly suited to my slightly needy tendencies. All too soon Hannah and Mirri had to leave however and I will admit I felt quite teary as I waved them off, despite the fact I am returning home in a month for Christmas! To overcome this loss, what better than the first ice-skating session of the season? Kat and I bravely took to the rink despite the shaky leg syndrome you get an evening after over-indulgence and even managed to not fall over. Quote of the session came from Kat ‘If I fall, I feel it would also be a moral fall’. The next time I go I would quite like to be like Kiera Knightley in the latest ‘Anna Karenina’ adaption where she just gets pushed around in a sled by an attractive man, as by the end , my ankles were very sore. Unfortunately I feel my stature has sadly thwarted any future ice-skating dreams – being too leggy and uncoordinated makes it all rather more bambi on ice than ice goddess but tant pis. And there we have it, some more tales of my adventures on the continent.

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Confessions of a Woko addict

The clocks have gone back an hour and Lyon is a dark and frosty tonight, meaning I can profit with some quality duvet time and an update of the blog. Admittedly this is a rather late update but a combination of doing a 9-6, attempting to lead a social life and my obsession with browsing for faux fur on the internet are to blame for it. I have had (true to nature) quite a few embarassing/potentially entertaining social experiences recently including a trip to a singing piano bar and an ‘underground’ Lyon night where I went to a basement speakeasy club that simply had a fridge at the back of the room serving as a makeshift bar. There is something thrillingly roulette-like about buying wine from an unlabelled carton displayed next to the barman’s handwritten ‘menu’. In other news I risk returning home about a stone heavier than when I arrived due to the restaurant tickets that my French office gives out. 8euros of food for the price of 4 means I have become a regular at the local Eurasian noodle bar, so much so that I now recognise all the staff and can say ‘nouilles viet, poulet satay avec des baguettes’ in less than a second. Sebastian would be proud of my French progress I am sure.

Parties parties and very little sleep mean I am now a bit of a shell of my former self and suffering from a horrid rhume that blights me daily. This work play lifestyle was particularly the case last weekend when I went from Wednesday morning to Saturday night on 3 hours sleep…I think I was definitely delirious by the end as I returned to my flat and mistook nail varnish remover for make-up remover. Cue a distinct burning sensation on my face and panicked ideas that I had inadvertently created my own chemical facial peel. This weekend all began with a Brazilian themed (guessing from the taste of tequila in my mouth the next morning) Erasmus party where somehow Kat and I ended up once more in the VIP area with a large group of faux footballer players who proceeded to bring out magnums of champagne and huge bottles of grey goose vodka. Emily Pankhurst would have been ashamed of me I’m sure but when free drinks and a velvet sofa are on offer (classy) I apparently become surprisingly audacious on the smooth-talking front. The afore-mentioned faux footballers were all pretty hammered and insisted they played for a team called Saint-Etienne. We nodded politely but it became apparent when Kat googled their story the next day that the facts weren’t adding up. When the Wikipedia intro says that you are part of ‘arguably, the most successful club in French football history’ why would you spend a Thursday night in a questionable student club attempting to shark on Erasmus students?  As these doubts only surfaced on the lendemain however we profited from an excellent night of tequila shots, dubious flower garlands and best of all, free crepes provided by the club. See below for pictorial evidence.

free crepe love

After catching the metro of shame (the metro that leaves at about 5:20am and uses florescent  lighting to highlight your dishevelled appearance) it was a jarring reality check to travel on it in the opposite direction a mere 3 hours later. I think it’s safe to say I got through that day at work solely due to Woko and a litre of full-fat coke – best intern ever award is on my way I am told. There was no time for rest once the day finally ended however as the Festival Lumière had descended on Lyon and in the joining spirit that the Year Abroad has stirred in me, I had signed up for the all night ‘Nuit musique et Cinéma’. This ‘nuit’ involves more than 4000 people gathering at nightfall to begin a marathon of four films punctuated by clips from famous music videos. If you make it through the night your reward is a petit-dejeuner of black coffee and croissants, but if you feel yourself becoming drowsy fear not. Behind the giant projection screen there are pillows, floor mats and blankets for the weary film die-hards. As I peeked into the area at 3am I could already see carnage had ensued. The only apt description of the scene would be a post-apocalyptic game of adult  sleeping lions. Anyway, I digress. The evening was great and from it I discovered the Beatles mockumentary ‘Hard day’s night’ which if you ask me is very nouvelle vague for a something about Liverpudlians. More musings on the festival can be found on http://www.intuition-online.co.uk if you are interested!

Annecy

Another early metro ride home (although this one less shameful) and I had one hour to wash away the fatigue and confusion of the experience before catching the train to Lake Annecy for a day of strolling around the lake and eating lush tartiflette. Annecy is so beautiful it almost doesn’t look real; it’s definitely on my list of places to visit again although hopefully the next time I will be less delirious. Safe to say we opted for the boat tour rather than a trek in the surrounding mountains. Probably a good thing as the most sensible shoes I brought with me to France were cream canvas hi-tops. La class. Les parents also came for a visit this weekend as it was my mum’s birthday! It was lovely as I could play the tour guide and see all my favourite bits of Lyon through new eyes, whilst profiting from the large amounts of wine and good food that are the bonuses of a mini break with your parents. We paid a trip to the highly recommended ‘L’entrecote’ where only steak is on the menu and you have an unlimited supply of fries. Perfection would have to be the word for my medium –cooked slice of pure cow drenched in magic sauce. This was then (unnecessarily) followed by a huge desert and large amounts of Côte du Rhone so I had both a food and drink hangover the lendemain. But, as I haven’t had a holiday since Christmas as technically  Rennes over the summer was workies too I felt like the only child treatment I received over the weekend was a deserved! My lovely parents then surprised me with a new (once more  faux fur) coat that I had been lusting after so I am a very happy bunny. I told my flatmate Anastasia I felt like Anna Karenina in my fur ensemble as we caught the metro yesterday and she drily asked if I was about to throw myself under the approaching train. I think for now I am pretty happy so there is no danger of involuntary destructive impulses. We’ll see what 5 months in Siberia does to me though…

birthday champagne

‘Mais qu’est-ce qu’il fout là ?’

My one month anniversary in Lyon is rapidly approaching and I have to say I am falling fast for the place. Particularly when I have nowhere to be and can idly meander around, imagining myself to be some kind of french yé-yé girl in a black and white film… although I am rather less kempt than a screen goddess. My internship trundles along well and I am gradually beginning to keep up with the constant pause-cafés, although I still suffer from pretty bad caffeine headaches due to peer-pressure induced espresso shotting.

I’m determined to become less English and so have been dabbling in the most traditional things Lyon has to offer. The first of which was a trip to a Lyonnais ‘Bouchon’. Bouchons are traditional restaurants specific to the region that feature kitsch decor and large amounts of meat, notably from the more exotic parts of the animal. Not something for the feint-hearted. They were in fact originally visited my silk workers who passed through the city in search of a fun time, some trade and some pork (at least this is what I imagine). Our group of six wasn’t even offered menus until we had eaten two sets of entrees, the first of which appeared to be some kind of poached egg in gravy, and the second large amounts of charcuterie, salade lyonnaise and lentils. Then follows the main where you can choose from calf’s head or pig cheeks (adventurous) or stick to the tamer black pudding or fish quennelles. I’m pretty sure there was no veggie option, in fact I’m not sure the Bouchon owner would have known what a vegetarian is. After this came cheese, more bread and finally a desert trolley. All delicious but the playsuit I was sporting due to the party afterwards was definitely not appropriate attire. I think I rolled to the metro. The party afterwards was Olympics themed and you had to dress up as a country and bring a bottle of the national beverage. Naturally, this involved large amounts of vodka for me and then an amusing taxi drive home with a vietnamese man who told me about the reputation of english girls, namely the fact we are known for being ‘facile’ drunks. Charming.

 

Bouchon napkin

My French is definitely improving due to the bureau and lots of evening and breakfast conversations with my flatmate Anastasia, but my vocabulary took a considerable leap forward when I went to the Lyon vs. Bordeaux football match with some Erasmus aquaintances. Being seated in the upper tier amid reams of angry French men (shout out to Guillaume from the Olympique Lyon shop for the tickets) was an excellent means of picking up useful phrases. Some that I believe are only suitable for the football pitch. I learnt how to properly pronounce ‘Mais qu’est-ce qu’il fout là ?’, which has to be accompanied with a violent hand gesture at the opposition player rolling around on the floor attempting to gain a free kick. Unfortunately, despite my robust supporting efforts Lyon lost to Bordeaux and whilst the victorious 30 or so Bordeaux fans who had made the trip across France began to do a celebratory strip (literally), I made a disappointed slink back home with the rest of the embittered supporters and ate my feelings.

One of the interns from work was leaving last week so we decided to have a ‘repas du monde’ soirée involving some traditional cuisine from each of our countries. I broke the rules and made tartiflette as it is potentially my favourite thing in the entire world and I didn’t feel up for jokes about whether I was cooking pudding or baked beans (this is apparently our stereotype) from the others. It was a beautiful affair that involved an Italian, Ukranian, Vietnemese-Czech girl, a Thai and finally me, the less exotic English participant eating a dinner of the afore mentioned tartiflette, caviar, spring rolls, salmon tagliatelle and ginger stir fry rice washed down with large amounts of wine. I’m beginning to wonder if I will pick up a very odd French accent from the eclectic mix of international people at the office…

In other language news I got a little drunk on Saturday (theme developing) and finally plucked up the courage (or rather, was coerced) into speaking some Russian. I think I got about 3 sentences in before apologising in French and pleading for it to ‘please stop’ but this is definitely progress from the last attempt where I tried to flee the building.

As for my professional life, I had an awkward moment the other day where I realised that the office does not actually have communal milk. A terrible thing to notice when you have been audaciously using a presumed ‘sharing’ milk only for to discover a large ‘K’ written in marker pen on the back. I have a feeling the ‘K’ refers to the name of one of the other ‘chefs de marché’ and I have definitely made tea in front of her… I don’t even understand office politics and I fear I am failing. But, I did climb a step up the career ladder when I participated in my first video conference on Monday. The australian on the other line has an accent that the marketing director described as ‘n’importe quoi’ . There was an excellent moment where said Australian was muted and I stepped in (rather like Nicole Kidman in the film the Interpreter I feel) and used my feeble linguistic prowess to placate my angry and disgruntled French colleague. I may be a milk thief, but at least I have some use. I balance out the high-powered career girl me with less classy moments, such as clambering atop a bar at an Erasmus party and singeing my hair with an indoor sparkler. Definitely ‘la class’. Such is the duality of pretending to be a proper person whilst in fact being a 20 year-old student.

russian courage