Category Archives: Travelling

Tentative Travel Schedule

I’m trying not to go crazy with stress about David’s job placement but I am seriously scared that someone else is going to want Chambéry and David will end up in Caen or Nantes or Paris (no offense to anyone who lives in those cities – it’s just that they are really far from my work!) And then we’d have to find two apartments and live apart until May 2010. ::sigh::

I know there is no use worrying now since I can’t do anything about it. But Toulouse was just replaced with Saint-Denis (yes, Saint-Denis in LA REUNION) on the liste définitive, which leaves only Digne-les-bains, Chambéry and Lyon in the southern half of France. All the rest are in the northern half. Usually, the candidats choose the city that is closest to their current domicile so that they won’t be too far away from their family. This is actually why Saint-Denis was added to the list. But what if someone from mainland France actually wants to go there and that person in La Réunion must then come to France??

I know for a fact that someone ranked higher than David who lives in Ardennes wants to move to the south where there’s sun, so he’s going for Digne first and Chambéry second. And if one other person wants to move to the “south” s/he will choose Chambéry (which isn’t actually the south and there’s not much sun there anyway) because geographically, it is furthest south after Digne. Lyon is most likely out too, since there’s a candidat who lives in Lyon who is also higher than David on the list. I know I’m over-thinking this and should just stop, but I can’t.

I’ve tried to keep my mind occupied with my trips this spring and summer, but they are starting to stress me out too. I’m worried about the Dominican Republic in an extremely irrational fit of paranoia because of what happened to Céline et Sarah. And the others are hard to plan because I don’t know where I’ll be living in a month, so it’s a bit difficult to buy train and plane tickets when I don’t know my city of departure!

April 15-20: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic [brother’s wedding at Riu Palace Macao]

May 18-30: Milan, Lake Como, Genoa, Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier, Nîmes, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Carcassone, Toulouse, Cerbère [train & road trip with Michelle & Jason]

June 7-15: Istanbul, Turkey [with Jason to see Martha]

July 20-August 9: Michigan, Virginia [sister’s wedding at House Mountain Inn], Washington D.C.

I did buy a GPS though, and I made all the hotel and car rental reservations for the May trip. That’s something, at least…

Provençal Villages, Arles & Van Gogh’s Room

We’ve returned from our week in Provence!  Last year we mostly visited the larger cities (Avignon, Orange, etc.), so this year we visited many of the smaller villages in Vaucluse (74), and then drove down to Salon-de-Provence and Arles in Bouches-du-Rhône (13).

The beauty of Provençal villages never gets old to me. The colors, the flowers, the countryside, the weather, the tranquility – all of it makes me want to move there tomorrow.

The last village we visited, Séguret, is considered one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. And I would have to agree. Even the town’s mairie has an adorable sign above its door.

Another reason I love traveling in France is all of the historical information you come across. Of course, it’s always amazing to see Roman ruins that are thousands of years old, but I’m more interested in the people who lived here. I had forgotten that Van Gogh spent some time in Arles and that Nostradamus had settled in Salon-de-Provence, but the cities definitely reminded me.

Right next to the arena in Arles is a reconstruction of Van Gogh’s room, which you can visit for 2,80 €. It was actually really neat to see.

Obviously we didn’t make it down to Camargues or over to Aix-en-Provence like we had planned. Maybe next year…Now it’s back to the real world of catching up on paperwork, e-mails and blogs!

The rest of the pictures are here: Provence 2008 Photo Album

French Postcards from the Early 20th Century

David & I are down in Provence for the week at his mom’s cousin’s (Bobby & Martine) house in Sarrians, in the département of Vaucluse. The weather is perfect (hot and sunny), the sound of the cigales (cicadas) is so relaxing, and we have trips to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Salon-de-Provence, Aix-en-Provence and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue planned. I have no idea why there are so many hyphens in these names.

Today we went to the big Provençal market in Bédoin, where I limited myself to only spending 6 €. This afternoon, we were looking at some old postcards that were sent between the eventual grandparents of Martine around the time of World War I (most of them date to 1914.) I think they are the coolest things ever. [Click on images for full size pictures.]

A sampling of the fake color photos on French postcards of the early 20th century

Happy New Year, April Fool’s, French Army, and babies in a bag.

Lesson for boys: Romantic things to say.

French penmanship. Can you read this?

Even if you can read the words, can you understand what it means?  “Je viens de recevoir ta lettre à l’instant et je te fais réponse de suite pour te tranquilliser au sujet de ta lettre du 1er août. Je ne t’en parles pas sur ta dernière lettre car ce n’est qu’à la derniere que je te fais réponse…” Uh, what?

The best part was finding a series of postcards with this guy on them:

“Look honey, I’m opening your letter with care.”

“And now I’m holding it close to my heart.”

“And now I am actually reading it with this ridiculous smile on my face.”

“It’s a new day, as evidenced by my suddenly green tie, and I’m writing you back with this large feather pen and a pensive, yet still corny, look on my face.”

“And to prove how much I love you, I’m including a FLOWER in my letter!”

Like I said, these postcards are the coolest things ever.

Off to Germany and Hungary

I leave this afternoon for Berlin and Budapest. I won’t be back until late Friday night, and I probably won’t get online much during the week. I’m excited about seeing two new countries but I’m not so excited about flying. If only it weren’t so much cheaper and faster than taking trains. The liquid restrictions make me so incredibly angry (LIQUIDS CANNOT BLOW UP A PLANE!) and I hate the way flight attendants treat passengers. Granted, I would hate being a flight attendant and having to cater to random people all day long, but still…

I will have to fly again in January or February of 2009 when my brother gets married in the US, but I’m hoping to not fly anymore this year. At least I know in June we’ll be driving to southern Germany so I can co-present at a Writing Center conference in Freiburg and then head over to Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle. We’re also planning another road trip to Provence in July, to my beloved département de Vaucluse, but also to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Montpellier and Carcassonne. Thank goodness David has family in the south so we have a free place to stay!

My other travel plans include Rennes & Mont St. Michel in Brittany and the American Cemetery in Normandy. I figure 6 hours on a train isn’t too bad. Plus I’m still dying to see Prague and Dubrovnik. Not sure how I’d like spending 13 or 16 hours on trains though… Ooh, unless I could do Frankfurt & Dresden before Prague and Venice, Ljubljana, and Zagreb before Dubrovnik… Ahh, must find job and save money first!!!

But really, what’s the point of living in Europe if you’re not going to visit all these cool places that are so close? I know we won’t live here forever, so I’m trying to see as much as possible before it’s too late.

A vendredi soir !

Day trip 2: Lyon

Another day trip! This time it was to Lyon, the former capital of Gaul.

As soon as we arrived, Jessica & I jumped on the over-priced tramway (1,50 €) and headed straight to Le Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation. We were there for over two hours and didn’t even hear the gas explosion. It happened just after noon, not far from Gare Part-Dieu, where we had arrived an hour earlier. We didn’t even know about it until hours later when David called to make sure we were ok.

The museum was cheap (only 2 € for students / 4 € regular price), but it was mostly plaques on the wall that took forever to read because the lighting was so bad. There were some exhibits that had no explanation as to what they were – not as confusing as Mozart’s Geburthaus in Salzburg, but still… I like to know what I’m looking at and why.

Lyon was considered the center of the resistance movement during WWII. The maquis (resistance fighters) were able to hide in and move about Lyon thanks to the three hundred traboules (tunnels) that connect buildings in the old town. The historical center is the site of the old Gestapo headquarters, where Klaus Barbie tortured thousands of prisoners (including famous maquis Jean Moulin) earning him the nickname “The Butcher of Lyon.” He was finally arrested in Bolivia in 1983, sent back to France, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. The trial was actually filmed and you can watch some of the footage at the museum.

The most interesting part of the museum was the large book listing every French Jew who had been deported from France. The day before, I had finished reading Hélène Berr’s journal, and I knew exactly where to find her name. She and her parents had been deported March 27, 1944 – her 23rd birthday. She would die in April 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, shortly before the camp was liberated. Anne Frank also died that same month at Bergen-Belsen.

It was strange finding her name in the book. I can’t really explain it, but finding that one name among 76,000 was a little surreal. It somehow made her journal and her life more real for me.

After an inexpensive lunch (4,50 € student menu), we walked across the Rhône and Saône rivers to Vieux Lyon. Going back much further in history, we wandered around the two amphitheaters built over 2,000 years ago when Lyon was called Lugdunum.

Continuing up the hill in the Fourvière district, we stopped at the famous basilica to take some photos of Lyon from above. The only skyscraper is a hotel close to Gare Part-Dieu, and that nuclear power plant you can see in the background is 30 km away.

La Tour Métallique is next to the basilica. Today it just serves as a TV tower and is not open to the public. I think it looks much prettier at night with all the lights on…

This cute guy is at the entrance of the museum of miniatures in the old town. Lyon’s old town is full of pretty colors. All of the buildings were shades of pink and orange and it seemed so clean.

So Chamonix and Lyon were my big travels for the February vacation. Let’s compare the prices for these day trips, shall we?

Chamonix: 24,70 € train tickets + 38 € Aiguille du Midi + 8,80 € lunch = 71,50 €
Lyon: 21,60 € train tickets + 1,50 € tramway + 2 € museum + 4,50 € lunch = 29,60 €

Chamonix & Mont Blanc

Lucy & I decided to take a day trip to Chamonix yesterday. We’ve lived in the Alps for a year and a half, but still haven’t actually seen much of the Alps… So after two hours and three trains, we made it to Chamonix, which was surprisingly warm for February. Then after another hour of searching for a bathroom and the Tourism office, we finally found ourselves at the télépériphique to go up to the Aiguille du Midi.

After having a mini heart attack upon seeing the price – 38 € ! thirty-eight freaking euros !– for the privilege of going up to the top, we handed over the small fortune (well, for us anyway) and climbed into the cable car. About 25 minutes later, we were on the terrasses overlooking Chamonix and the snow-covered Alps.

The Aiguille du Midi takes you up to 3,842 m

We stayed up there for about 3 hours, taking pictures and videos of the mountains. The highest level of the Aiguille du Midi gives you a great view of Mont Blanc (the tallest mountain in Europe!) You have to take an elevator up there, but it is free even though the sign down at the office in Chamonix says it costs 3 €.

Mont Blanc – latest measurement puts the summit at 4,808 m

The restaurant on the Aiguille du Midi is only open mid-June through mid-September, but there is a small overpriced cafe. FYI, their croque-monsieurs aren’t so good.

We both got bad headaches (I think the glare got to us) and sunburns on our faces. We didn’t actually forget to bring sunscreen, but we did forget to put it on. ::sigh:: Climbing the staircases to go from terrasse to terrasse will make you get out of breath easily – but don’t worry, you’re not out of shape, it’s just the thin air (or at least, that was my excuse…)

You can also buy a one-way ticket for 35 € and then ski/climb/hike all the way down. But man, that’s a long way.

Look how close I am to Europe’s tallest mountain!

Other highlights of the day included tricking the automatic public bathroom (no way were we both paying 40 centimes!), marveling at the “British Foods” section at SuperU, and being lucky enough to sit way across the aisle from a sick little girl on the train. The woman sitting directly across from her was not so lucky.

One last piece of advice – if you buy your return train ticket at Chamonix, make sure they sell you the right one. I bought my ticket at the machine, and Lucy bought hers at the counter and since we both have the Carte 12-25, they should have been the same price. But somehow she was charged 5 euros less. Apparently the lady sold her a période bleue ticket when we were leaving in a période blanche, even after asking Lucy what time we were leaving. If we wouldn’t have noticed this and changed it right away, Lucy probably would have been fined on the train even though it wasn’t her mistake. Never trust the SNCF!!

Vaucluse Photos

I love this vacation. It was so nice to not worry about airport workers rifling through my bags, or going over the weight limit, or bringing too many liquids. After 25 € in tolls and 3 hours of driving, we arrived in Provence. Everyday we get up and go to a new place, return to the house in the afternoon to go swimming, and then have a typical French dinner that lasts 4 hours and has 5 courses. There are so many interesting places in Vaucluse, all within a 30-40 minute drive. Here’s where we’ve been so far:

Avignon: Le Palais de Papes and le pont St. Bénezet (pont d’Avignon)

In 1309, the French-born Pope decided to move to Avignon and build a huge palace. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is also the world’s largest Gothic structure. It costs 12,50 € to get in, so we just wandered around the gardens instead. The pont d’Avignon is famous because of the cute song “Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse…” Most people don’t realize the bridge doesn’t actually traverse the Rhône today. You can go on it for 4 € but the view isn’t so great since a highway runs under it.

Fontaine de Vaucluse: Vallis Clausa

Beautiful clear water! The source is at the bottom of a cliff that you can literally climb into (after jumping the fence, which everyone did, even the tour guides). And it was free!

Roussillon: Les Falaises d’Ocre

We left Fontaine and took la route touristique through Gordes to get to Roussillon. Both of these villages are considered some of the most beautiful in all of France. The red and orange color of the soil here isn’t unique to only France though – it’s found in Africa, Asia and the US too. For only 2 € you can walk through the cliffs and get your shoes completely covered in the rust-colored sand.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: Antiquités

Antique capital of France, L’Isle is known for its canals around the centre ville. Similar to Annecy, it’s also called a small Venice. We walked through the market (Thursday and Sunday mornings), and had lunch at La Gueulardière, a restaurant/hotel owned by friends of David. They have a large collection of vintage memorabilia related to school and France and I probably took 30 photos of pictures hanging on the walls. The old maps of France, showing the former provinces, were my favorite.

Orange: Le Théâtre Antique

This Roman theater was built over 2,000 years ago and is still used today for plays and concerts. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of three Roman theaters with the back wall still standing (the others are in Turkey and Syria). I was a little disappointed at the amount of lights, speakers and other modern objects that were everywhere inside the theater but the admission fee of 7,70 € also includes the museum across the street and an audio guide for the theater.

Another Roman vestige: aqueduct near Carpentras

And one last picture of the countryside (the sunflowers were too shy to face the camera). Mont Ventoux is in the background.

Tomorrow is Vaison-la-Romaine and we return to Haute-Savoie on Sunday.

Why I hate flying, reason #214

Does anyone else think it’s completely unfair that airlines have the right to change your flight itinerary at any time they choose? David & I bought our Christmas tickets to Michigan way back in January through Orbitz. Since then, our flight itinerary has been changed three times – always to more inconvenient times, such as arriving 4 hours later and leaving 3 hours earlier than we had planned and increasing the layover between flights to 7 hours…

I paid (a lot) for the certain times and flights that we wanted. Why can’t the airlines respect that??? I’m already not liking Lufthansa even though I haven’t flown with them yet…

Greetings from Egypt

I’m in Cairo!

It’s hot and there are a bazillion people everywhere. But I’m liking it. Even after an 11 hour wait in Milan and Alitalia losing my luggage (which I still haven’t got back.) It’s so chaotic and crowded, and the gap between rich and poor is ridiculously wide, but it’s still interesting and fun. I guess there’s just something about being in a place where you can’t understand the language or read any of the signs. I feel giddy like a little kid discovering something new and so different from what I already know.

Tomorrow we go to the PYRAMIDS!!!

Salzburg, Austria

This past weekend I went to Salzburg with a few other assistants. We rented a car and drove there and it took 12 long hours. But Austria was just as beautiful as I remembered it. I would love to live in the Austrian countryside someday. Attempting to speak German after not studying it for 5 years was a little challenging, but somehow I managed.

We mostly wandered around the old town, went to Mozarts Geburtshaus, and went on a Sound of Music tour (which also took us into the lakes and mountain district). Then we watched the movie at our hostel, of course. The weather was a little rainy and chilly, but it wasn’t too bad. However, the weather in Annecy was really cold when we returned. It had been 27 degrees before we left, and now it’s under 10. And of course, now it’s difficult to switch back to French since I’ve been trying so hard to remember my German.

Seven more weeks of work and then I have another 2 weeks off for Christmas. I finally have my schedule for all 3 schools. I have to work 5 days a week, but at least I only have to get up early once. Some classes I will see every week, some every other week, and some once a month. I have no idea how I’ll ever remember all of my students’ names.

I’m returning to Grenoble this Friday to accompany another assistant to his medical visit. My visit was really simple – chest X-ray, eye test, listen to heart, etc. They even let you keep the X-ray for some reason. I was able to apply for my residency card the next day and I should receive it within a month. No more annoying paperwork for a while!

When I returned from Salzburg, I had an e-mail from Australia waiting for me. I was accepted in the PhD program in Public Health at the University of Western Australia. I was awarded two scholarships: one that pays my tuition and one that pays me $20,000 as a living stipend. So I’ll be moving to Perth in June, less than a month after I return to the States in May.

So now I really need to finish my Master’s thesis in Linguistics. I’m going to write it while I’m here in France, but I’ve been so preoccupied with teaching and paperwork that I haven’t had a chance to really start it. But hopefully I’ll get at least a few pages done before Christmas.

A la prochaine !