Invading the Playground of the Rich with the Family

So last week I embarked on something I had long sworn to myself I would never do again … the family holiday. It’s not that I don’t love my family, I do, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve found the idea of spending a week with my family in a cramped holiday apartment utterly unappealing. The last holiday I went on with the family was five years ago (when I was 18) to the middle of nowhere, Tuscany. While the scenery was undeniable beautiful, I found myself trapped in a converted farmhouse/holiday village which was a 15 minute drive from the nearest village – a sleepy hamlet that only came alive on market day. It wasn’t exactly the beach and jet-skis I had been hoping for. Since then I have become quite adept at travelling on my own so when my father asked me about the possibility of a family holiday I was slightly apprehensive, won over only by the fact my accommodation was being paid for me. Putting my doubts aside, I hopped off to Cannes on the French Rivera with my family in tow.

After arriving in Nice airport we took the bus to Cannes, why we took the bus I don’t know since the only way to truly arrive in Cannes is by helicopter or Lamborghini. Cannes in not your average beach town, sure you have ice cream for sale on every corner but don’t expect to see children running around with buckets and spades, unless they are made by Valentino. The same applies to cars, I didn’t see one typical family car about to explode and deposit extra towels and beach toys on the street, the family vehicle of choice was an s-class Mercedes and for those without children only a Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini or McLaren would do.

The main activity in Cannes, if you didn’t have the money to hit up the casinos, was people watching along the Croisette ( the fancy name they give to their seafront). For us, the common tourist, this meant watching old rich men in their expensive shirts with their young girlfriends in 4 inch heels parading up and down before heading onto one of the private beaches for a seaside dinner. At first this fills you with a level of insecurity, self-doubt and inadequacy comparative to a toddlers first day on the big kid playground but after a while you learn to enjoy mocking those who pay €600 for a pair of shoes that they can’t even walk in and if we got bored we could always resort to a game of gay or European and wife or mistress.

The one thing I found extremely disappointing given Cannes place as a cinematic centre was the lack of cinema related activities. There was the path where famous festival attendees had put there hand prints and a small exhibition on the life of actress Romy Schneider but no museum or tour detailing the history of the Cannes film festival.

Apart from the beach and looking longingly at rich people the one family activity we engaged in was a trip to the principality of Monaco. We didn’t stay to long in the state given that it was 35 degrees and the range of activities were limited to gambling or yachting but one thing we got to do which was very special to me was walk along the tunnel that forms part of the Monaco grand prix track. Having watched F1 at lot with my family it was great to be able to do that with them, maybe one day I’ll be able to go back and drive the whole track (assuming I ever learn how to drive).

All in all, despite being a little out of place, the trip was a success. We didn’t kill each other and any bit of sunshine was a welcome break from the dull and dreariness of an Irish summer. Unfortunately with my final year of university looming it will probably be my final trip abroad for a while, but once I have my degree in hand I hope I will be able to give my passport a serious work-out.

Erasmus is Over. VIVE L’ERASMUS!

All things must come to an end, but that doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it. For various reasons my Parisian adventures came to a somewhat abrupt end last Thursday and while I’m glad to be home, I’m having one hell of an Erasmus hangover. With Italy and Spain going head-to-head on my TV (really it’s just a warm-up for their games against Ireland) it seems like an appropriate time to try and summarize and put some sort of a conclusion on the past five months.

For the first 3 to 4 weeks it wasn’t easy, in fact there were several times during the first month I was ready to leave; it was freezing cold, I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t understand a thing. I thought I was never going to get used to my new life in Paris, but after about three weeks strange things started to happen, the mumbling of the people on the metro started to turn into a recognizable language and the strangers I was living with became familiar faces and I began to settle into and enjoy my Erasmus experience.

Although it would have made my life a lot easier to do a Erasmus in a English speaking country/university, I’m really glad I decided to go to France. Prior to Erasmus I had studied French for almost 10 years but was still struggled to string  a coherent sentence together. Even though I’m still far from fluent my French is a lot better than when I left and for the first time I have the confidence to try to speak in French to actual French people.

Despite being full of Parisians and tourists, Paris is a truly beautiful city. Even if I had have stayed there for a year, I doubt I would have seen it all. The only thing I struggled with was the metro. Coming from a tiny city where everything in the centre is within walking distance, it was exhausting having to spend 30 minutes trapped underground in order to get anywhere. I got used to the metro but I never really came to like it and I don’t know how I would cope living in a city where I had to take the metro multiple times a day.

                

Before I left I asked everyone to write down what Erasmus was to them and one thought kept coming up over and over again, Erasmus is about the people. Ultimately when I look back on this experience it is the people I will remember the most. I lived with people from 15 plus different countries most of whom were insane in the best possible way. I learned which stereotypes are bullshit (Not all Germans like meat) and which are kind of true (Italians do like talking) but most importantly I learned the things we all have in common (No matter the nationality,  you will no see a student awake before 10am on a Saturday; If there is a large group to assemble, you will not be leaving on time). Even when the disorganization of the student residence got frustrating, the people I was living with almost made me glad I was staying there. I chose to end my Erasmus with a sushi dinner because I could not think of anything that sums up Erasmus more than eating in a Japanese restaurant in France while people the people around me are talking in 10 different languages all at the same time.

 

 

On a personal level Erasmus has given me the courage to live in a country and a culture that is not my own. Due the current state of the Irish economy it is very likely that I will end up living overseas, even for a while, once I finish university next year. I now have the confidence that I can go anywhere in the world and embrace a new culture while imparting some of my own. No amount of classroom learning could ever have thought me that and it is one of the reasons I think Erasmus should be mandatory for everyone.

So that’s it. I can’t believe it’s over, I miss it so much and after the grand boulevards of Paris, O’Connell and Grafton streets are never going to be the same. Luckily  I only have three weeks until my next holiday, a return trip to France this time with la famille. Mon Dieu.

It’s Tourist Time in Paris!!!

Great News! As of about an hour ago I am officially a free woman i.e. no more assignments, no more classes, nothing but free time on my hands to enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The downside is, with the the amount of time college has taken up I have been left with a hell of a lot to see and only two and half weeks to see it in (might have to pay a visit to the Ryanair website and do something about that). This conundrum of time keeping means I am going to have to prioritize what I want to see.

At the start of the semster I made a Paris to-do list and I actually did managed to accomplish some of the more realistic things on the list. I left a kiss on Oscar Wilde’s grave, I met/saw from across the street Gerard Depardieu and I did contemplate going to see a Johnny Halliday concert but tickets were way to expensive for a guy who looks like somebody’s dad doing a bad Mick Jagger impersonation. Therefore with my time in Paris running out, its time to make another list to make sure I don’t miss out on anything before heading back to stupid Ireland.

1. Climb the Eiffel Tower – Really something I should have done my first week here but in my defense it was -10 when I first arrived. I intend to fix this oversight as soon as possible

2. Take a boat trip on the Seine – Ridiculously cheesy and not as glamorous as the movie might make it seem but its probably a lot safer then my previous idea of wanting to swim in the Seine

3. Recreate at least one scene for the Olsen Twins classic Passport to Paris – The dream that will never die

4. Spend a day taking tourist style pictures of tourists – Meta-Tourism in the making

5. Actually locate Shakespeare and Co. and buy something

6. Visit the final resting place of my new found Paris hero Andre Bazin – and possibly go back to Pere Lachise and say goodbye to Oscar

7. Picnic in Chateaux de Versailles – I’ve always known I’m a princess, this will be one way to prove it

And last but not least…

8. Meet Sebastien Chabal – Because honestly that’s the whole reason I came to Paris in the first place

Easter Roadtrip – Waffles, Fries and Jesus

Although the Parisians sometimes forget, there is more to France than Paris. I decided to take advantage of the long Easter weekend to see some other parts of France and the surrounding area so I headed north to Brussels and Lille on a trip organised by EIAP, the association of Erasmus students in Paris.

The fun started at 6am Friday morning with an early trip to the Metro to get to the coach, the metro was nice and quiet but I took the wrong exit at the station and somehow ended up stranded on an island/roundabout with no visible means of escape. I ended up having to run across a very wide road, hoping that the traffic would stay away long enough for it to be safe. Lovely way to start the trip. When I met my weekend travel buddies for the first time the thing that struck me most was the distinct lack of testosterone. Once again I found myself on an all girls trip, just like being back in school. It wasn’t that bad and considering the main selling point of the trip was chocolate, not that surprising. At least this trip when we were brought to a bar, we were actually allowed have a drink.

A few hours later we crossed the Belgian border, already thinking about the fries and waffles that were awaiting us. I got my first taste during a brief stop in Bruges and I have to say, I was a little underwhelmed – Burdocks is definitely better. I did however get to see the square and the belfry featured in the film In Bruges but unfortunately since neither Colin Farrell or Brendan Gleeson were around to recreate the scenes, I had to make do with quoting the lines to myself. I did however discover that the chocolatiers of Bruges not only make quality chocolate but enjoy sculpting into various different parts of the anatomy. It made for some interesting viewing while strolling around the town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon enough we were back on the bus and heading for the capital of Europe. For our first night in Brussels, we got to experience a nightclub – Belgian style. As clubs go it was fairly strange, there was no real dance-floor  just a  narrow hallway where people were dancing, the clientele was between 16 and 60 and one guy was wearing a lime green satin shirt (there’s always one). It was fun though, before the tiredness from being up since six set in.

The following day was set aside for exploring the city. Due to unforeseen circumstances the entire public transport system was shut down which meant the day involved lots of walking and getting lost. We walked around the city, munched on some mighty good waffles and wandered past churches and palaces galore and eventually made our way to the European commission building to see the brain centre of Europe. Even though the city looked beautiful,  I think the biting cold and local events which caused the shutdown of the transport system stopped me from enjoying it as much as I could have. Hopefully I’ll get to go back some time when it’s a bit warmer.

Arc d'Triomphe Brussels Style

Hometown Boy Jacques Brel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday morning it was up early and off to Lille. Unfortunately the change of location did not make sight seeing any easier. The rain and the cold were ever present and because it was Easter Sunday a lot of things were closed. I split from the group for a while and took a visit to the Lille museum of fine art which, aside from being warm and dry, was rather beautiful. The paintings displayed were from the middle ages onwards and featured many depictions of Jesus and other bible stories which fit nicely with the theme of the day and slightly eased my Catholic guilt about not going to mass. Rejoining the group a little while later I just had time for one final waffle before heading back to Paris.

Headless Mary and the Baby Jesus

The weather wasn’t on our side, but it was nice to get out of Paris for a while and see some new sites and even though it wasn’t a typical Easter weekend the basic components, Jesus and Chocolate, were definitely present. I want to thank EIAP and my fellow travel buddies for making the trip enjoyable, even in the cold. There are so many places in France I want to see, I think I’m going to have to do some travelling around once the semester is over. If  there is anyone who has a car,  who would like to volunteer to take me on a road trip, let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on the Tourist Trail with my Mommy

This past weekend a very important visitor came to see me in Paris … my Mom. This has been the longest I’ve ever been away from Ireland and since I still live at home, the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family so it was good to get to see her again but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous about her coming. Since it was her first time visiting me in a place that half counts as mine, where I am partly responsible for the cleaning and the keeping everything in order, I wanted her to be impressed but I was quite apprehensive since our kitchen in the residence quite often looks like this:

Who forgot to do the washing-up?

I didn’t need to be worried though, both the kitchen and my room were looking well and my mom was highly impressed with my newly acquired domestic skills ( a make-up stained, unintentionally dyed blue towel was just the right touch to show I won’t be ready to take over cleaning duties outside of my bedroom when I get home). I was brought over some lovely presents including much missed soda bread which I haven’t been able to find in Paris or, due to my lack of oven, bake for my self. With all the practicalities taken care of, it was time to see the city.

In the past few weeks my sight-seeing in Paris has unfortunately taken a back seat to the realities of student life. For the first month or so, I was all about seeing the different sites but recently studying and just chilling out have taken over;  there is something about living in a city rather than just visiting that makes we want to avoid tourist hotspots. But with my mother around I took the opportunity to become a tourist again and see some of the things I had put off.

To ease us both in gently I took my mom for an afternoon walk around Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur. Even though I’ve been a few times before, the view from in front of the Sacre-Coeur is always impressive even when it is a bit misty like it was on Friday. I think my Mom liked it but mostly she was annoyed at the amount of steps, especially since I waited until we got to the top to tell her about the cable car

For Saturday’s adventure we went shopping followed by a trip to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. I have never really had a strong desire to see the Mona Lisa, but I felt if I was going to be in Paris for this long it was something I had to see. This was my Mom’s fourth trip to Paris and she had never seen it either so I figured it was the perfect time for us both to go. unfortunately most of the things I have heard about visiting the picture are true, it’s quite small and surrounded by a five foot wall of camera wielding tourists. It was a worth a visit simply to say that I’ve been but for a good view of the painting it’s better to pick up an art book. On the wall opposite is the far more impressive Wedding Feast at Cana which needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate the scale.

Wedding Feast at Cana - Paolo Veronese

TOP TIP – To avoid a really long wait, buy your tickets for the Louvre at a ticket agency before you arrive, that way you can skip the huge queue and walk right in, all while receiving dirty looks from the people stuck in the line.

With my mother in town I was feeling in a Irish mood so I decided it would be a good time to go and visit my good friend Oscar Wilde in Pere Lachaise,  probably the most famous cemetery in the world it is also the final resting place of Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and a whole bunch of other people. It may seem a little morbid to say this but with the sun shining it was actually a really nice place for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

About 6 months ago the Irish government paid for a plexiglass barrier to be placed around Wilde’s grave to stop the tradition of people kissing the grave which was destroying to stonework. It worked but only in the sense that people now leave kisses on the plexiglass instead. Despite my mother telling me I was going to get a cold sore I decided I couldn’t leave Mr.Wilde without giving him a kiss and added my contribution to this own going tradition (two days later I’m cold sore free).

We packed a lot into three days which meant Monday came around pretty quickly and a big yellow taxi (metro line) came to take my Mom away. It was great to see her and I loved being able to show her around the city which has become my temporary home. It was fun to take a break from student mode and slip back into tourist mode again, even if it was only for the weekend.

Erasmus Reflection: Maintaining National Identity in an International Community

Normally, I’m not that proud to be Irish. Not that there is anything wrong with being Irish, I’m just not a particularly patriotic person. But for whatever reason, all that changes the minute I get on a plane to leave the country. My brief study of social psychology taught me that people are more likely to identify themselves as part of a group or community when that group is the minority (or something like that, I slept through most of my psychology classes) and I guess that’s true. In Ireland being Irish is nothing special, but when aboard it marks you out as being part of a community, something different. This doesn’t just apply to the Irish of course; it affects all nationalities when they leave their home countries.

A few years ago I got a tattoo on my wrist after a short spell volunteering overseas. It’s two hearts interconnected and contrary to popular belief it is neither a Celtic symbol or the symbol for the band HIM. That volunteering trip was my first time working as part of an international group and I got it to remind myself that despite the perceived differences between countries, at a basic level people are quite similar. Being on Erasmus has reaffirmed this for me…

In the residence international I live with people from I don’t know how many different countries. Despite differences, which can sometimes be obvious (what I consider t-shirt weather is still considered cold by many others), most of the people here share the same goals of trying to get to grips with the French language, pass their classes and not be killed by the kitchens all while trying to see as much of Paris as possible and have some fun in the process. Seeing people from eight or nine different countries come together for a midnight sing-a-long makes you realise how small the world is.

Despite this, there is always room for individuals or groups to celebrate their own culture and share it with those around them like the recent St.Patrick’s day festivities when I was able to share a bit of Irish culture with the others. Had the weather been nice and the match not played out like it did, it would have been a really great day but despite all the problems I’m still glad I got to help spread the message of St.Patrick (I wasn’t actually sure what the message of St.Patrick was so I bought Guinness and Cadbury’s instead). Other people have done things to share their culture as well which has allowed me to try Italian coffee and something called Pálinka which all I know about it is it’s NOT vodka.

I’m really happy to be having this experience especially now that the weather is getting warmer and I can finally enjoy Paris in the sun, although I did buy sun cream today which probably means it’s going to rain for the next month and Murphy’s law will become just another part of Irish culture I’m sharing with Erasmus.

“I established this Order of the Unified Heart, that is a kind of dream of an order. There is no organization. There’s no hierarchy. There’s just a pin for people of a very broadly designated similar intent…. You’re just not scattered all over the place. There is a tiny moment when you might gather around some decent intention”.
“Here’s what you need to know,” he tells you as he places the ornament in your hand. “There are no meetings, no by-laws, and no dues, and if you lose the pin, you get another.”
Naturally you join.
There follows a wicked smile, as if to acknowledge his awareness that this is one of the few instances of human association that makes this easy.

Leonard Cohen

The Introduction of S.I.O.P.A (Standards for Irish Overseas Pubs Association)

Paris is fun but there are many things I miss about home. Chief among them is Lucozade but I solved that problem a few weeks ago when I found a British/Irish food shop in the city. This week I set out to find a decent place to watch the Ireland/Scotland rugby match. Finding a good Irish pub in the city has become a priority of mine recently.  Normally I try to stay from them but with St.Patrick’s day looming, which this year also coincides with the Ireland/England game, I’ve come to realise I’ll need somewhere good to celebrate, somewhere I can release my inner crazed rugby fan without looking like a madman.

Yesterday I ended up in a place called ‘Murphy’s House’, not a bad name for an Irish pub but I personally prefer a more classic ‘Murphy’s’ or ‘O’Connor’s’. It wasn’t my intended destination but I got lost ( I really have to stop leaving the house without looking up the directions first) and I figured most Irish pubs would be quite similar. Inside the place looked pretty genuine, it had a bar, bar stools, booths and a bunch of TV’s to watch the match, all the basic requirements but appearances can be deceiving. First of all I was one of only a handful of actual Irish people in the pub, most of the customers were French (obviously) or English. One particular group parked beside me would not stop talking throughout the entire first half, not only that but they were cheering for Scotland. I’m not saying you have to cheer for Ireland, but for any neutral in an Irish pub it is common decency. The pub also refused to turn up the volume on the television so the commentary could not be heard over the chattering and I really cared about hearing Chris Patterson’s opinion on the game.

Also I had to pay €12 for a small coke and a small plate of chips, I know Paris is expensive, but after paying €8 earlier in the day for a pint of Bulmers it really stung. They didn’t even provide salt and vinegar for the chips. Safe to say I will not be going back there for St.Patrick’s day.

All this business has led me to believe someone needs to set up a S.I.O.P.A.,  a Standards for Irish Overseas Pubs Association, to provide the world and Irish people overseas with information on where they can watch a game in a manner in keeping with Irish tradition. I know I’ve only been gone 6 weeks or so but I’ve come to realise whenever I’m feeling a bit homesick or want to do something that reminds me of home, it’s the small things, like watching an Irish game in a friendly environment that matter the most.